first day back activities

First Day Back to School Activities: First Day Back Stations

You can have the first day back to school activities any day of the year. We all need classroom management tips and first-day back stations are one of those you can use any time of the year. Right now, this is more important than ever as classrooms return from quarantine, teachers handoff substitute teachers, students come back to school from spring break, or a classroom may get off track and need a fresh start. First-day back stations are a teaching tactic to add to your tool belt so you can help reestablish the procedures that give the order that students need and crave.

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Many of us like our classrooms to be student-centered and not as much lecture-based. So, I refuse to start school with lecture – or when we return from spring break. We need a fun, interactive student-centered way to introduce ourself to our class or re-introduce procedures. One way to do this is first-day back stations.

Why Are Back to School Activities Useful Any Time of the School Year?

First, let’s look at the research of why back to school activities are so important to us teachers. A 2021 article on classroom management from the Harvard University online teaching center said students make a judgment about the teacher and class on the first day. The article says “When teachers fail to hook students’ attention upfront, engagement remains a struggle for the rest of the semester.”

The harsh reality of life in the classroom is if you lose them on the first day, you can spend months trying to regain their excitement and energy. Another big picture harsh reality was well-said by the Washington Post

“Remote learning, the toll of illness and death, and disruptions to a dependable routine have left students academically behind — particularly students of color and those from poor families. Behavior problems ranging from inability to focus in class all the way to deadly gun violence have gripped campuses. Many students and teachers say they are emotionally drained, and experts predict schools will be struggling with the fallout for years to come.”

As students come back – even now – sometimes teachers need to re-orient their class, regain attention, and help students re-learn procedures. 

Nowadays we have many first days with students. When a student or teacher returns from quarantine, spring break, or any other extended time away, we have a new first day. But you can also make your own first day any time of the year! Some of us (like me) need to!

My Broken Foot and How I’m Planning my First Day Back

This is very real to me right now. On February 25 when I went in for surgery on a broken foot, I had no idea it would lead me to over a month out of the classroom. While I’ve still been teaching online, my students and I haven’t been face to face and that has been hard. So, I’m planning back to school activities for April that will impact my students and engage them from the moment I return. And thus we have the topic of today’s show. 

As we work through this strange time, I want you to have resources that you can add to your toolkit and use as you see the need. Back to School Stations is one of those aids.

How to Reboot Your Classroom Any Time You Choose

I have had classes in my 20-year career that got off track in terms of behavior or unexpected events.first day back activities inquiry

Here’s how I reboot my classroom when I need it.  I have learned to raise my hand at the end of class to get the class' attention and I say something like, “OK, class, I need your complete attention at this moment so turn your chairs and knees towards me. Right now, what I’ve seen in this class today is not who we are (and then I’ll name the behavior and call it out – whether it is talking, off task, disrespect to another student, or something else, I get specific because I’m going to hold them accountable.) 

And then I continue, so when a computer messes up, what is the first thing we do? And they’ll answer, “we reboot it.” 

And I’ll say, OK, so tomorrow we’re going to reboot this classroom, and here is what I expect. And then I’ll remind them of the procedures of entering the class and what I expect and how they will enter the next day. 

Then, when the next day comes around, I have my lesson planned completely and am ready to super engage the students and I’ll stand at the door and immediately remind them of procedures. 

Anyone who doesn’t respect the reboot is corrected and redirected immediately and swiftly. It works!

So, teacher, if you’re struggling or a particular class is struggling, you might even want to do first day back activities in this show to reboot your classroom now. A reboot will work but you can’t do it every day and I have never had to do it twice with one class in a year because I treat it like a new first day and bring my a game and intentionality with it.

Episode 772 - 10 Minute Teacher Podcast

First Day Back to School Activities: First Day Back Stations

Angelina Murphy
Secondary ELA Teacher

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About Angelina Murphy - Secondary SEL Teacher

Angelina Murphy

Angelina Murphy secondary SEL teacher.

Angelina Murphy is a secondary English language arts teacher based in Los Angeles. She is a National Board Certified Teacher and has a master’s degree in education from UCLA, where her focus was on trauma-informed teaching, ethnic studies, and community-grounded praxis. 

Twitter: @magicalmsmurphy

Instagram @magicalmsmurphy


First day back to school activities: First Day Back Stations - Transcript

00;00;01;12 – 00;00;04;22

Announcer: This is the Ten Minute Teacher podcast with your host, Vicki Davis.

Thank you to our sponsor, Advancement Courses and their Tournament of Teachers Bracket Challenge

00;00;04;24 – 00;00;27;12

Vicki: Today's podcast is sponsored by Advancement Courses, their Tournament of Teachers Bracket Challenge is well underway, featuring some of the most well-known mischief-makers in books and film. Stay tuned at the end of the show to find out how to start voting for your favorites. 

Introduction to the Need for First Day Back Stations – an Activity You can use any time of year

We all need classroom management tips, and today's show is about one of those you can use any time of the year to get your classroom back on track.

00;00;27;28 – 00 back stations are a teaching tactic to add your tool belt. First, let's look at the research of why this is important. In a 2021 Harvard University Online Teaching Center article they said “When teachers fail to hook students' attention, upfront engagement remains a struggle for the rest of the semester.” But what if you can reboot your classroom any day?

00;00;49;11 – 00;01;09;24

Vicki: Because face it, we have many first days with students. When a student or teacher returns from quarantine, spring break, or any other extended time away, we have a new first day. This is very real to me right now as I'm out of the classroom temporarily with a broken foot. And while I'm teaching online and emailing with my students, we have been face to face and that has been hard.

00;01;09;27 – 00;01;30;28

Vicki: So this is a tactic I'm going to be using on my first day back to engage them from the moment I return. First-day back stations can also be used when you want to reboot your classroom. So I've had times about 20 year-career where I had a class get off track. I would raise my hand at the end of class and say, Okay, students we're going to reboot just like we do a computer.

00;01;31;02 – 00;01;56;19

Vicki: I'll set my expectations for how we're going to enter class the next day and then be on my A-game and we will reboot the class and basically have a new first day. Now, you can only do this pretty much once a school year, but it absolutely works, and I love having it in my tool belt. So if you're struggling with a particular class or you're preparing to return to the classroom or even returning from spring break, learn about first-day back stations.

00;01;56;29 – 00;02;02;20

Vicki: This is episode 770 to a classroom management spotlight on first day back stations.

00;02;02;24 – 00;02;29;29

Vicki: Today, we're talking with Angelina Murphy. She's a secondary English language arts teacher based in Los Angeles and is a national board certified teacher and has so many different credentials, including trauma informed teaching But Angelina, you've got a strategy that I think is especially important and useful as we teach face to face. So we may have some quarantine time and then come back face to face is a way that can connect with kids.

00;02;30;00 – 00;02;36;28

Vicki: Now, you call it first day stations, but it doesn't have to be on the first day. Describe them to us. 

The Stations That You Might Have

00;02;36;28 – 00;03;14;04

Angelina: So I frame it as the first day of school stations because that's the first time I do it. However, you can really do it whenever, whether it's in the first few weeks of school or after getting back after a long weekend or the second semester or a long break. But essentially, the goal of stations is to help transition the students back into an academic space, build community, reconnect, and then also do any of the logistical pieces that you would like to do on the teacher end. There are a few stations that I do on the first day, so I do a logistical piece of reading the syllabus, responding to it.

00;03;14;04 – 00;03;34;26

Angelina: What do you notice what you wonder activity on a poster board? We usually have a station that is a community builder of some sort at their group. We do a community agreement station where they come up with behavior or norms for what they need from their peers and from me, their teacher, to feel safe and empowered.

00;03;35;09 – 00;04;05;07

Angelina: They do an introduction station where they write all the important information I want to know about them their name, their pronouns, their interests, and they record a video of them saying their name. So I can use that as a steady guide to learn their names, their correct pronunciation. You could do a Meet the teacher station, you could do a Google form It really is sort of breaking down different pieces to get to know your students, for them to also get to know each other and get to know what they will be doing in class.

What is Located at Each First Day Back Station?

00;04;05;21 – 00;04;17;18

Vicki: So I had a friend, Sabrina, who loved to do this method, but let's say somebody hasn't heard of this method. So if they have a Google for they go to a station and then how do they know what to do and what is there in that station?

00;04;17;27 – 00;04;39;13

Angelina: So at each station, I have multiple printouts of the directions. I tell students before they get into the station that the first thing the group is going to do is you are going to read the directions out loud as a group and it will tell them specifically what their task is. So if there's a Google form station, for example, there might be a couple of computers there for them.

Procedures for First Day Back Stations

00;04;39;20 – 00;05;00;16

Angelina: They'll be some directions and then they'll be able to accomplish it there. Some of the stations are independent tasks, some of them are group tasks, but there are numbers around the room, and then the directions are printed out and there's that routine of sit down with your group read it out loud, discuss it, and then accomplish that task in the next 10 minutes or however long you give them to complete it.

Adapting First Day Back Stations to Trauma-Informed Teaching

00;05;00;19 – 00;05;13;13

Vicki: That's sort of your first day. How about when you have like a break or if you have some kids who go in quarantine for a while, how might you modify this specifically with your experience with trauma-informed teaching?

00;05;13;23 – 00;05;33;10

Angelina: Yeah, there are so many ways to adapt it. I think a lot of teachers are familiar with versions of this. It's really similar to learning stations to gallery where the students are essentially moving around the room and sort of chunking tasks for them. So they have in a certain period of time that amount of time to complete that one thing.

00;05;33;10 – 00;05;53;15

Angelina: Instead of giving them this long, overwhelming to do list of all of these things you want them to do, they're kind of piecing it for them and allowing them to interact with each other and also have times where they're sort of by themselves too. Especially for students who might be more anxious, maybe more introverted. They may not want lots of socialization.

00;05;53;15 – 00;06;06;12

Angelina: So you have those breaks where they have opportunities to share and talk and then opportunities to do independent tasks as well. So it really breaks up this type of learning and the type of interacting that they're doing in one class period.

Length of Time for Classroom Back To School Activity Stations

00;06;07;00 – 00;06;10;22


So how long do you typically have in your station rotation?

00;06;11;03 – 00;06;39;07

Angelina: I've done it lots of different ways. I think it really depends on what it is that you're having them do at the station. I think 10 minutes is usually a good place to start, but it could be longer. It could be 20 minutes, it could be shorter, it could be 6 minutes. Do odd number seven in 36 seconds for the station. I think look at what your station tasks are and think about which of these tasks is going to take the longest for students.

00;06;39;07 – 00;06;57;24

Angelina: Like how long do I think that will take them and then for the other tasks, if there's something you want them to do that is not going to take them as much time, you might want to have a second look if you finish this early Here's something that you can do. But if you don't get to that item number two, don't worry about it and you can always adjust as well.

00;06;58;03 – 00;07;07;08

Angelina: Like I'm always wrong on pacing. I always think that things are going to take way longer or shorter. So depending on student needs, you could always adjust those numbers in the moment as well.

Common Mistakes Teachers Make With First Day Back Stations

00;07;07;23 – 00;07;18;06

Vicki: So what are some of the most common mistakes that teachers make when they attempt this station method, especially when they're trying to get kids incorporated back into an academic space?

00;07;18;16 – 00;07;39;10

Angelina: Hmm. Most common mistakes Well, one thing I will say, and this isn't necessarily a mistake, but it is something to prepare for, is that first day back stations can be a little bit chaotic. And for some teachers, especially on day one, that may not necessarily be something that's going to be comforting to you. So you might want to consider that as well.

00;07;39;19 – 00;08;02;18

Angelina: But a mistake that I think could be made is not explicitly going over how to do this activity before doing it. I think having those explicit directions and modeling how it's going to work, even if it seems simple to you, is really helpful for students. So by telling them and having this even on the board

Step one, the second you get into your station, read it out loud.

00;08;02;24 – 00;08;22;11

Angelina: Assign this person who's going to read it out loud next. Have someone rephrased what it is we're going to do. And then three accomplish the task, whether it's independent or as a group, and then go through it with them. 

And also the first time we're doing station. I like the idea of a “Meet the Teacher” station, and I've done something like that before.

00;08;22;17 – 00;08;34;06

Angelina: But I would suggest, especially the first time navigating this, definitely recirculating the room to help students who are a little bit lost to help redirect, just like you would in any other classes as well.

What Teachers Like About The First Day Back Teaching Activity

00;08;34;15 – 00;08;46;23

Vicki: So when teachers try this for the first time because you have a lot of teachers who are communicating with you about this approach, what are they most excited about and what do they tell you about their first try?

00;08;47;05 – 00;09;11;07

Angelina: Oh goodness. Yeah. There's been a really overwhelmingly positive response on Twitter when I first shared this a few years ago, and then I shared it again last year with the digital version initially on the first day of school. They sort of do the standard first day of school thing that a lot of us have done, where you stand in front of the class, you go over the syllabus, introduce yourself, the class rules, and then maybe there's time like a quick community builder.

00;09;11;08 – 00;09;44;03

Angelina: But it is more teacher-centered. It's a lot of talking on our end, and it's usually not super representative of the classrooms that we're going to have a lot of us have really interactive, collaborative classrooms, and the first day doesn't always feel like that. So a lot of teachers have said that they like that it was actually less work on the teacher and less talking, less teacher-centered and more student-centered and an opportunity for teachers to really interact with your students and get to know them in ways that a traditional first wave school sort of lecture that it allows.

00;09;44;17 – 00;10;02;26

Angelina: And you still get to make sure that you have those logistical pieces that are important to you. So for me, that is getting a recording of their name so I can learn how to say it, getting the information about their pronouns. But they're excited about what they're anxious about what I need to know about them. They're still getting those important uses.

00;10;03;04 – 00;10;07;21

Angelina: But you're allowing more playtime on day one as well and more energy in the room.

00;10;07;25 – 00;10;24;13

Vicki: Well, and you want kids to go home and say something positive. And I found that once they've made up their minds about you, they're rarely going to change their mind. So if they can have a positive impression of their teacher on the first day and they go home excited, then they spend the rest of the year trying to prove themselves right, don’t they?

00;10;25;14 – 00;10;48;01

Angelina: Yeah, absolutely. And especially for a high school or middle school, if they're going into six classes and they're kind of all sort of the same thing, they're probably bored to tears. And this gives them an opportunity to have some movement, have a little bit more discussion. And again, it still accomplishes all of those things that are important to you as long as you incorporate it in some way that day.

Making Adjustments for First Day Back Stations Since the Pandemic?

00;10;48;13 – 00;11;01;15

Vicki: Now you're back to face-to-face teaching, and this is fall. 20, 21. Have you had to make any adjustments for distancing or sanitizing or anything as you do for space stations?

00;11;01;24 – 00;11;23;05

Angelina: Yes. So this year the station did not happen. In my ideal fantasy world, in where they're getting up and they're moving because we wanted them to stay socially distanced there in pods. Luckily, all students are wearing masks instead of having the students get up and move around the room. For me, I was a little bit worried about navigating that, so it was done safely.

00;11;23;05 – 00;11;45;06

Angelina: Instead of that, I rotated the station myself And there were also materials on computers. There were less like shared materials as well. So that is always a changing thing as well. 

And for some teachers, you can do sort of completely digital. It can be 100% digital on the computer and you can have them work in their one pod.

00;11;45;17 – 00;11;49;25

Angelina: And even if that's less ideal, it still does have a lot of those benefits.

00;11;50;16 – 00;12;14;05

Vicki: Well, these are so many great ideas. And if first day stations or first stay back stations or just station experiences, whatever we want to call them, I think that this is a great way to adjust back into, as you said, academic instruction, and that can happen anytime in the year. Thanks for sharing all these best practices, Angelina.

Thank You Advancement Courses: Vote in the Tournament of Teachers Bracket Challenge.

00;12;14;06 – 00;12;40;11

Vicki: Voting is now open and investment courses. Tournament of Teachers Bracket Challenge. Would you rather teach Draco Malfoy from Harry Potter or Veruca Salt from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? Ferris Bueller or Bart Simpson? From now on until March 30th 20, 22, you'll have a chance to vote for which character you want to see advance through each round and see the winners announced on March 31st.

00;12;40;11 – 00;12;54;10


20, 22. Go to to start

00;12;54;11 – 00;13;06;06


You've been listening to the ten minute teacher podcast. If you like this program you can find more at Culcairn teacher dot com. If you wish to see more content by Vicki Davis you can find her on Facebook and Twitter under cougar teacher. Thank you for listening.

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored podcast episode.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via a cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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Will May 8, 2022 - 7:38 pm

I really like these strategies, i am sure to use this on the first day in my classes! Its nice to have some more icebreakers other than the dreaded “let’s go around the room and tell everyone your name and something interesting about yourself”

Vicki Davis May 14, 2022 - 1:22 pm

Yes. I think it is a great idea. Let me know how it goes.


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Vicki Davis writes The Cool Cat Teacher Blog for classroom teachers everywhere