The Back to School season is always so exciting, and stressful, for teachers and students alike.  Students are often wondering who will be in their class this year; if they’ll like their teacher; if this year they’ll finally be more successful in math; etc.  Teachers are often wondering if they’ll have new requirements thrown at them; if they’ll get along with that new staff member; how big their class size will be; if the new curriculum will work for their students; etc.  After all the build up, I always find some calm once I’m in my classroom with my students and we’re focusing on establishing routines and building relationships.  While the beginning of the year is usually my least favorite time, this year was a little different for me: I looped up to second grade with my students!  Rather than having to spend every day practicing every single routine, we’re getting to spend so much more time on fun activities together.  While we are still practicing procedures, and establishing new routines, because most of my students are familiar with my expectations, they’re going so much more quickly than previously.  So our focus on our first three days has been on getting to know the new students in our class, building stronger relationships with each other, and just having a bit of fun.

We have back to school night the day before school starts.  I typed up each student’s name using KG Red Hands (it’s one of my favorite fonts, and it’s free for personal use) and printed them two per page onto 12″x18″ construction paper sheets.  During Back to School Night students grabbed their name plate and chose the seat where they wanted to start the year.

They’re pretty easy to create yourself, but I know teachers are always looking to save precious minutes when they can so I created a free template.  Because printing on 12″x18″ isn’t possible on regular printers, and was even a pain to do on our large copy machine, the template was created for regular paper.  It could easily be modified by changing the page size, enlarging the text box, and then enlarging the font.  The nice thing about these is that the text autoresizes to fit the page on longer names, and that will continue to work even if you enlarge the page size and font.  To download the free template, click on the cover below.

On the first day of school, students’ morning work was just to illustrate their name tags.  I love that students get to have a choice in where they sit, helping them feel welcome, and that our first day morning work is non-stressful, and calming.  I originally got this idea (I think) from Teaching with a Mountain View several years ago, but this is the first year I did it in my classroom and I love it!  

Students love that their name plates are something they were part of and love having it on their desk.  I just laminated them after school the first day and then used Velcro to stick them to the desks.

I also wanted to integrate students in a Back to School Bulletin Board.  I had the idea to do a “Sailing through Second” theme (I love alliteration!) and despite several hiccups along the way, I love the way this turned out.  First, I put a layer of yellow paper on top, a layer of blue paper on the bottom, and the cut the blue in waves.  I couldn’t find a border in my stock that I liked so I used white tissue paper and stapled it along the edges.  “Sailing through Second Grade” was just printed onto paper using fonts I have on my computer and cut out.  I need a Cameo or Cricut to do this cuteness for me, for sure.

Sailing through Second Grade Bulletin Board

To match the sailing theme, I told my students that they were the “captains” of their own learning.  I associated them to a fleet of ships, and told them while they’re in the same ocean as each other and need to work together to ensure they’re all on the right path, they truly are the captain; that their effort determined their course.  Each student made their own foldable paper hat using directions I found on the internet and a piece of white construction paper.  We wrote “Capt.” and their name along the side and I took a picture of each student in their hat saluting.  While I was photographing each student, the others were decorating the bases of their boats that would be hung on the bulletin board. (Before I get hate mail, I know ships and boats are not the same thing).  I had the great idea to use pipe cleaner to hold up the triangle sails my students cut.  Here’s a tip: pipe cleaners will not glue to paper.  So, boats were assembled as I hung them up on the bulletin board using staples.  I remade my template to include a sail on the paper due to that mishap.  Just like the name plates, the names on the boat auto-resize for long names.  To download my template Powerpoint click here.  Please note: it’s also set up using KG Red Hands and due to that and the resizing, it should not be used in Google Sheets but downloaded to be used in Powerpoint.  I printed each student’s picture as a 5×7 and printed two per page.  That gave us one as a back up if a student cut their arm (or other body part off), or as a nice, fun item to take home at the end of the day.

Personalized sailboats student sail boats

Sailing through second bulletin board

We also spent some time talking about growth mindset and the Power of “Yet”.  I used the amazing videos from Class Dojo to introduce key pieces and we had class discussions about what Mojo and Katie learned about their brains and learning.

Then, I used this lesson from Brown Bag Teacher to further our discussion about “yet” and learning to do things we don’t already know how to do.  Because I looped with most of my kids, it was easy for me to give my own personal touch: last year I told them that I can’t whistle, but a little whistle has actually started to come through and I was able to show them that I’ve improved.  We read Giraffes Can’t Dance as a mentor text for the idea of learning new things.

Working at an arts integration school, I’m always looking for meaningful ways to incorporate the arts into our learning.  I usually stick to visual arts because I find it easier to find aspects I’m confident teaching, and I find more resources online.  When I was looking for growth mindset activities, I stumbled across this post from Deep Space Sparkle and used it as a jump start for our own art project.

We began with students drawing the giraffe’s body in pencil.  I directed students to draw a circle, but an oval probably would have been more realistic.  Then students drew rectangles, or parallel lines for the legs and neck.  We finished with the head and then went back to add trapezoids for the hooves.  Students colored in their giraffes using yellow markers and then chose brown or black markers to add the giraffe’s dots, mane, and hoof colorings.  Most students emulated my example for how the legs on the giraffe were angled, though they did not have to.

Giraffe directed drawing Giraffes can't dance drawing

The next day we worked on our backgrounds.  We used the paints my school had,  and they definitely didn’t work as well as I would have liked.  The paints had different textures and didn’t mix well.  We began by making a white circle for the moon, and then did an inch or two of yellow on the bottom.  Then we mixed the white with blue to start creating the space around the moon.  So many of my students used too much yellow so their paintbrushes were still full of yellow.  That combined with our less than desirable blue paint gave us a very yellow heavy night sky.

Giraffes Can't Dance painting Giraffes can't dance background

We continued adding onto our night sky and added some purple to help deepen the blue.  Then we added green over the yellow, and quickly used the back of the paintbrush to scratch through so the green would come out.  I also showed students how to take the paintbrush back and drag up a bit of paint to show blades of grass popping up.  While the paint was drying we very carefully cut out our giraffes from the day before.  After waiting a bit longer, we glued them down being careful to let the moon shine through, and not have our giraffes hanging off the page.  These turned out so adorable!

Giraffes can't dance art Giraffes can't dance art

Giraffes can't dance art Giraffes can't dance art

When I hung them in the hallway, I made a little sign that said “Giraffes CAN dance!”  This might have been my favorite back to school week yet!

Giraffes Can't Dance bulletin board

Student projects for Back to School