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First Day of School Activity: Design a T-Shirt

written by: tstyles • edited by: Laurie Patsalides • updated: 4/5/2012

Teachers, parents, and children are all gearing up for the first day of school. Take some advice from an established teacher and don't try to lecture on the first day! Your students won't be paying attention. Instead, try this activity.

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    Warning from an Established Teacher

    I remember my first year teaching in the inner city. I had no clue what I was doing. What's worse, I had no clue that I didn't have a clue what I was doing. I recall that my first day of full-time teaching experience started with a two-hour lecture to my group of fourth graders. I stood at the front of my classroom and beside me was a kid's table with a glass of water on it. The children were at their desks, a sea of eyes staring back at me. The setup, in retrospect, was something out of a Manhattan comedy club, except nobody was laughing except my good friend down the hall who later told me she couldn't believe that every time she passed my doorway I was standing there talking and sipping water.

    How to Keep Your Student's Attention

    Eleven years later I have come a long way. I hardly do any talking as the students enter my room except to say "welcome back," or "hello." Beforehand I set up each table with an opening day activity, which is self-guiding. I usually write the directions on a table tent and leave it there for the students to read. Along with the directions I leave a basket of all the supplies they will need to complete the activity. I like to rotate the activities from year to year to keep it interesting.

    The kids are excited to be back, however long that lasts, and they don't want to be burdened first thing in the morning on their first day with lectures and rules and regulations and guidelines. Come to think of it, they never want to bothered with these things. That aside, teachers should want the students first impression of the class to be, "cool," and to offer a hint at the exciting and engaging year ahead, which it should be. There is an old adage I once heard early in my years, "Don't smile until Christmas," and I think that must be the single most worthless piece of advice there is for an elementary school teacher. Let's make it fun and exciting from day one and yes, smile a lot or do something else.

    Design Your Own T-Shirt

    For one of my activities I leave each table with a basket full of markers, scissors, pencils, rulers, white paper, and a T-shirt template cut from card stock. I have each student trace the T-shirt template onto their white piece of paper, cut it out, and then design it in such a way that tells something about them (hobbies, sport teams, interests...). When they are done we get together as a class and share the T-shirts one at a time by telling the rest of the class why they decorated it the way they did. And yes, I always design a shirt along with them. Children of all ages are fascinated by their teacher's personal stories and there is no better incentive to share with the children every chance you get.

    I have seen children design their shirts with sport team logos, favorite foods, favorite books, special memories. For the last part of the activity I string a clothesline up in the room and hang them with clothespins across the room. It makes for an attractive display at Parent Night.

    Have fun!