Want to try an inventive back-to-school activity that's really challenging? | Mentoring in the Middle

Want to try an inventive back-to-school activity that's really challenging?

What a great first week of school it's been!  Exhausting and fun, kids like bright, shiny new pennies, smiling and mostly eager to be back at school!

I want to use this post to give thanks to teachers who gave me ideas for what to do on those first days. This year, I was struggling to wrap my head around some of the challenges my students would be bringing to my classroom, and how I would meet them.  And that made me wonder about some of my first (and second and third)day activities.

Special thanks goes to Brittany from Mix and Math for her suggestion to have students use Play-Doh. Our students come through a variety of doors to get to our classrooms on the first day of school, and usually we're out in the hallway helping kids find their rooms, as we're welcoming them into our rooms.  Which means I can't be in my room in the first few minutes, which I don't like.

So I was thrilled to see her idea to have students create something out of Play-Doh that started with the first letter of their first name.  And of course, I was so caught up in what they were doing that I forgot to take pictures!  Here's what the setup looked like before students even arrived.
Random aside:  when I saved this on my phone, I called it "playdoh."  Apparently, autocorrect thinks that needed to be called "playboy."  Hmmmm....

Another activity, which I really liked and thought the students got a lot out of, was this growth mindset activity which I read first from Stephanie on Teaching in Room 6.  This is a brilliant challenge that is so hard to do, but is actually quite simple, once you figure it out.  Which only one student did, out of 75!  And only because he had seen it done recently.  He got part of it and his group figured out the rest.

 The beauty of this challenge is that students get frustrated.  As they do, and as you walk around, you write down some of the comments you hear them making.  Things like "This is impossible!"  "I can't do this."

And then, after about 7-8 minutes, you write those comments on the board.  As you ask students to look at them, ask them to think about what would happen if they were on a football team and saying those things to their teammates.  Or if they were going on a job interview.  My sixth graders really got this, and I could see jaws dropping.

So we talked about how to change those negative messages into ones that would keep us working.  I told them that Albert Einstein said, "I'm not smarter than most people.  I just stick with problems longer."  And that's what we need to do.

The end result?  I had lined a bulletin board but hadn't put anything on it yet.  On impulse, I decided to have students "graffiti" it with the sayings they'd written down in their notebooks.  On the first page.  So it would be the first thing they'd see when they opened their notebooks.
Thanks to two teacher-bloggers I don't even know, my students relaxed and learned in ways that we'll continue to talk about over the upcoming year.

It doesn't get better than that!


  1. I LOVE the play doh idea where they have to make something that starts with the same letter as their name! Such a fun idea to really get students into the mood for the first day! :)

    Teaching Autism

    1. The students really loved it. And they were so delighted when I told them they could take the playdoh home. Their reaction really surprised me.

  2. I also LOVE the play doh idea with an item that begins with the first letter of their name and was thinking they could make something to represent one thing they did over the summer!!!

  3. I will have to keep the play doh idea in mind for next year. Thanks for sharing these great back to school ideas!