July 30, 2016

Planning for the First Day of Third Grade

The first day of school is exciting and nerve-wracking for students and teachers. I can remember anxiously preparing for my first First Day as a brand new teacher.  I had run through so many different scenarios in my mind of what I thought could  happen. The reality was a lot more chaotic and I was so glad to have planned so much in advance.

In our school, the first day is a half-day to meet teachers, find classrooms, and get orientated.  That doesn't mean I don't have to be prepared.  It's surprising how much needs to be done in four short hours, so making a plan is key.

Here are my most important tips for the First Day of Third Grade:

First Day of Third Grade Tip One:  Have a plan for school supplies.

Every school and district manages school supplies differently. Sometimes teachers purchase and organize all supplies, other times students purchase supplies from a set list.  Our school does a combination of the two.  While I purchase some supplies and am able to organize them ahead of time, students arrive on Day One with backpacks full of pencils, paper, scissors, and all sorts of other personal supplies.

So what do we do with them? Here is how I organize school supplies in my third grade classroom.

On the first day of school, I have empty dollar store washing buckets set out on my bookshelves.    During the year, these will be labeled for each subject.  However, on the first day of the year, I label each bucket with the name of a school supply.

  • pencils
  • erasers
  • lined paper
  • blank notebooks
  • glue sticks
  • liquid glue
These supplies will become communal.  I put them in my back cupboard and ration them to be used for the whole year.  Students have access to my back cupboard (I try not to make most of my classroom 'off limits') but it helps to make our school supplies last all ear. 

On the whiteboard, beside a greeting to my new class,  I write a clear list of the supplies that can go inside of their cubby and/or desk (depending on the year).  These are supplies that are not communal.  When students come in on the first day, they take a look on the board, and begin to sort their supplies before meeting me on the carpet for our very first morning meeting!

First Day of Third Grade Tip Two:  Plan a fun get to know you game!

Every year, a good portion of my new students will inevitably walk in awkward and shy.  Even if I have invested time into getting to know the second graders before they left for the summer they will be nervous on the first day of school.  This is where a fun, non-threatening get-to-know-you game is key.  In my classroom, I love to use a beach ball to ask students fun facts about themselves.   Using a beach ball is a great way to get students moving, and to break away any first day jitters.  Make sure that your questions don't provoke any awkward answers.  The point is to allow your students to open up, not to embarrass them!

On her blog, Teaching in Paradise has great suggestions for how to set this activity up, and sample questions to use on your beach ball.  Check it out here!

Beach Ball Questions from Teaching in Paradise 

First Day of Third Grade Tip Three:  Have something for your students do to.  

No matter how hard I plan, and over-plan, there is always something on the first day of school that does not go to plan.  (Mild chaos is inevitable!)  I make sure that my students each have a Back to School Workbook at their desks that gives them something to do during the first day (and week) back.  This way, should the unexpected happen (like a nervous parent who needs to talk, or a student in tears who needs a moment of one-on-one time) the rest of the class has something to work on.  

Back to School workbooks also allow me to gather vital information about each of my students.  They are not just busywork.  With the workbooks I am assessing basic skills:

Can you begin working independently?
How long can you work independently?
Can you write legibly?
Can you form sentences?
Are you able to follow written instructions?
Can you infer?  Can you make a logical connection between these two pages?

This year, I made my students a Back to School book to specifically assess their skills and learning styles.  I want to know how they view themselves as learners, and what basic skills they may have difficulty with.  So while this book helps to occupy some students during moments of chaos in the first few days it is actually so much more.

Back to School Workbook - assesses key skills and learning styles

First Day of Third Grade Tip Four:  Do a project together. 

Two years ago I started doing an Art project on the first day of school.  


I taught a full Art lesson.  And it was glorious.  

I don't particularly like teaching Art, but I love the way my students come out of their shells when they are working intently on something and being a little creative.  It also gives my quieter students a chance to showcase their personalities without having to be the center of attention.  

My favourite project to do on the first day back is a Lego Self Portrait.  I get the Lego template from Art Projects for Kids and follow the basic lesson from Art with Mrs. Nguyen. 

I begin by handing out Lego people around the classroom.  We talk about what students can see. What shapes make it a lego person. (Curved hands, rounded head, rectangular legs).  Then together, we sketch me!  What am I wearing?  What could I be wearing?

Then students are set free to draw themselves as Lego people.  I love seeing what they come up with.


  1. These are wonderful tips! This will be my first year teaching and I will definitely be doing all of these. An additional tip would be to have name tags or student work folders on the desk that the students can design and customize/personalize. My Instagram name is 3rdgradedream

  2. Great tips! Last year was my first year in third grade after teaching kindergarten for 15 years. My tip is to over plan. Even after teaching all these years, I make a schedule/list of the plan and cross as I go so that, if I get stuck or forget, I can look at the plan and see what I can do next. My Instagram is I.teach.third

    1. I love that! I am definitely a planner as well. Gotta have a to-do list at all times :)

  3. Great tips! My tip is to try the name game. By the end of the day, try and remember at least half of the students' name. My Instagram is powerpointgaming

  4. I loved that blog post! You are so right that something always happens not to plan ;-) My first day tip is actually for the parents. When possible, I try to meet them briefly before or after school and let them know they are welcome to contact me anytime. You can find me at The Primary Patch on Instagram.

  5. Fun ideas! I look forward to checking out your TPT store :-)

    One thing I do at the beginning of the year is make a large heart shape out of construction paper then have the kiddos all write their name on it. Then I talk about the power of words and how they hurt our hearts. Sometime I crumple up the paper and sometimes I let them do add to the crumples. I try to smooth it out as best as I can but I always talk about how the paper will never be neat and wrinkle/tear free again....just like the hearts of our friends when we are unkind with out words. I hang the crumpled heart up in our room so the kids can see it and be reminded of it all year longIt's a great visual of how our words hurt.

    You can find me on IG as tlhoward00 (double zero at the end) :-)

    1. I see you teach in a Christian school - neat! I do too. This activity can easily tie in with Scripture.

    2. I love that! Starting the year off on the right foot with kindness :)

  6. I always start the first day out by having kids play with play dough. The sensory input calms nerves, and it keeps them busy while I check in supplies, take attendance, and answer any parent questions!
    - Katy
    firstgradekate @ gmail . com

  7. Marliese Bordman31 July 2016 at 12:12

    Thank you for the wonderful tips! Each year on the first day of school I spend the entire day having fun teaching my students our 3rd grade procedures for just about everything! I make it into a fun game so they don't feel like I am throwing tons of rules at them. Towards the end of the day we talk about how we want our classroom community to run for the year then together we come up with a set of guidelines to make that happen. I turn this into a cute poster and we all sign our names saying that we agree to work together all year to make our classroom the best for us all! This poster hangs above my door all year as a reminder that we are a family and all responsible for our positive learning environment!

  8. I always make sure kids have something special on their desks when they arrive. Depending on the grade I've done special crayons (twistables) markers, neat pens or playdough.

  9. By the way! Love your blog design!

  10. I always have a welcome to 2nd grade pencil on their desk for the first day of school.

  11. I have students color a bookmark when they come in. Then I laminate and they have it for all year! They love it!!

  12. I have students color a bookmark when they come in. Then I laminate and they have it for all year! They love it!!

  13. I like to do a Classroom Scavenger Hunt to help students get acquainted with the room - all of the questions can be answered from posters or other things in the room! My email is megatello@yahoo.com.

    1. So smart! Then they can discover parts of the room for themselves! I may have to borrow that one this year :)

  14. Thanks for the tips, I love having a good getting to know you game too! The kids usually bring it up throughout the year. :)

  15. I love your tips! I like to do a fun and easy directed drawing to start off the year! sonjadyck@hotmail.com

  16. For the lower grades, you can give first day activities such as using play doh, coloring sheets and all about me.

  17. Love all of these suggestions and ideas! I'll post the winner here, and contact them individually, tonight at 9pm pacific.