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The First Day of School in 2nd Grade

Back-to-school is the worst of times. It’s so stressful and exhausting (seriously it’s so, so tiring!).

But it’s also the best of times! The feeling of a new beginning is absolutely exhilarating. I love that fresh start, where everything is possible and I haven’t screwed up…yet!

I may be in the minority (okay, I’m definitely in the minority!), but one of my favorite parts of the new school year is teaching procedures. Really! I love that feeling of taking a room full of little strangers and shaping them into an effective and efficient class.

In The First Days of School by Harry Wong it says,

Effective teachers have a script ready for the first day of school. Football coaches go into a game with a script of their first 15 to 20 plays. Meeting and wedding coordinators have a script of what needs to be done. And effective teachers have a script that helps them organize the first days of school.

After 12 years in 2nd grade, I’ve engineered my first day of school plans into a well-oiled machine. And I’m going to share those plans with you today!

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A lot of what we do on the 1st day of School is decided beforehand, while deciding how to establish classroom procedures & routines, planning for guided discovery of school tools, and planning your efficient morning routine. Those three posts will give additional information useful to those planning out their own first day of school script.


What I do:

Regardless of whether or not my classroom has a theme that year (sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t), I put the students’ names on the door.

Why:

A big fear at the beginning of the school year is, “Am I in the right place?” When students can find their names before they even enter the door, it helps them feel more settled. Also, identifiable door decorations helps little ones find their way back to the room during those first few days!

What I do:

I arrange desks in tables of 4 or 5. I turn the desks backward so nothing can be stored inside. Students have a plastic pencil box for storing crayons, scissors, and glue stick (all labeled). Books and materials are stored in plastic drawers on the counter or in milk crates next to each table.

Why:

Nothing can get lost inside desks if they can’t shove stuff in there! This also cuts WAY down on playing around during lesson times. And we never have to waste class time cleaning out desks.

HINT: to attach name tags to desk tops, I swear by these adhesive strips from Really Good Stuff.  They hold up pretty well (they come up a bit in the corners), but generally last till May, don’t leave much of a residue when you pull them up, and are much easier to use than contact paper. I know people use clips, velcro, plastic sleeves…but I prefer something more durable. Although, when it’s time to rearrange seating assignments, it does mean moving the whole desk and not just the name tag!

What I do:

In the middle of each table, I dump a pile of pattern blocks. Not cute, but very effective!

Why:

Students need to be engaged in an activity as soon as they arrive. That’s a huge takeaway from The First Days of School by Harry Wong! But what do you do on that first morning??

My first year of teaching, I put out an All About Me paper… And I had students in tears. They were so nervous and certain they couldn’t read the activity (even though they could!), they just broke down. And when one starts crying, it sets the others off!

So lesson learned: nothing academic to start with! After that I kept it simple–just crayons and coloring. But when I read The First 6 Weeks of School from Responsive Classroom, I decided I didn’t want to give them access to crayons before discussing our classroom procedures.

That’s when I switched to pattern blocks. True, I haven’t established procedures for pattern blocks yet, but those are less important than crayon rules since we’ll use crayons every day. And there’s not too much they can do wrong with a pattern block!

Also, pattern blocks have the added bonus of being open ended. Students tend to show up REALLY early on the first day, but I’m busy greeting parents, showing kids where to put their stuff, calming nerves…No time to explain an activity! Pattern blocks don’t require any direction and there’s no need for a fast-finisher–kids stay engaged until the bell rings!

What I do:

After the announcements, lunch count, attendance, and pledge, the first thing I do is teach bathroom procedures.

Why:

There’s nothing more terrifying than having a nervous tummy and not knowing where/when/how to get to the bathroom!

What I do:

After the bathroom discussion, I teach whatever quiet signal I want to use that year. When I had a pirate themed classroom, my quiet signal was “All hands on deck!” Then the kids had to salute and say, “Aye, aye cap’n!” It’s the little things!

Why:

There’s no point in giving directions if you don’t have everyone’s attention. If you start talking before the kids are listening, you may as well give each child individual instructions because that’s what you’ll basically end up doing!

I use Harry Wong’s 3-step approach to teach any classroom procedure (that we refer to as “tell, try, tally”):

  1. Explain (tell): state, explain, model, and demonstrate the procedure.
  2. Rehearse (try): rehearse and practice the procedure with supervision and correction.
  3. Reinforce (tally): reteach, rehearse, practice, and reinforce the procedure until it becomes a habit.

You can read much (much!) more about establishing classroom procedures and routines in this post.

What I do:

We clean up the blocks and I teach them how to transition to the rug, how to choose a spot, and how to sit.

Why:

This is a procedure we’ll do several times a day all year long, so I have them practice until everyone can do it perfectly.

Once they’re settled at the rug, I introduce myself and then read a calming book. Sometimes the book has to do with the year’s theme (Edward and the Pirates is a favorite) or a back-to-school book (First Day Jitters, Froggy Goes to School, etc.).

What I do:

After the story, I teach procedures for lining up and walking in the hall. I teach them my hand signals for stop (palm up), turn around and go back (index fingers make circles), try again (motion them forward like a cop directing traffic).

Why:

After hogging the copy machine, having the noisy class in the hallway is the best way to create animosity among your coworkers! In Tools for Teaching, Fred Jones breaks down exactly how to teach this procedure. You’re know you’re a teacher when you’re reading a chapter on walking in a hall and you’re thinking, this is really good stuff!  It’s on page 126, if you’re interested in checking it out.

I have the class in 2 lines. This keeps more kids close to me, keeps stragglers to a minimum, and limits the opportunities for any mischief. Once they know my signals, they’re ready to practice.

I literally walk the kids around the school and the second I hear a whisper we turn around, back up a bit (I don’t make them go all the way back to the class), and try again. The first time I see a kid touching a wall or bugging a neighbor, we turn around, back up a bit, and try again. Do they get sick of it? Yep. But it’s important that they know I mean business.

As Fred Jones says:

Tools for Teaching, page 128

I use this hallway practice to show kids how to get from our class to the office, where the lunchroom is, and other important places around the school. Sometimes I’ve put out treasure hunt clues and we end up in the library for a story, but it didn’t always happen.

What I do:

My school has morning recess. On the first day or two of school, I take my class out 15 minutes early for our own recess. I swing the kids past the bathroom during our hallway practice and then we head outside.

Why:

I want to make sure everyone is clear about playground expectations before I turn them loose with 200 other kids. I teach them where and how to line up when the bell rings, we review safety rules, and then I let them play.

This is also critical observation time. It gives me an opportunity to see who has a lot of friends, who seems lost, who needs some reminders about appropriate playground behavior. I try to squash as many problems as I can before they start!

What I do:

Before school starts, I send home a letter. I introduce myself and ask students to bring 3 things from home to help us get to know them. After the first year, I learned to specify that the items had to fit inside a backpack!

Why:

This helps me get to know students and helps them feel like an integral part of the group. After recess (and swinging by the bathroom again!), we learn how to sit in a circle at the rug. Then half the class has an opportunity to share.

When I first did this, I crammed all 25 students into 1 sharing session. By the end, no one was listening and they were getting very restless. Doing half in the morning and half in the afternoon makes it much more manageable.

What I do:

I show students where crayons are kept, how to get them, and what to do with broken crayons. They then practice with a coloring page (copied double sided so the quick colorers have something to else to keep them busy). When most kids are done with the front, we gather back at the rug to discuss how well they followed the guidelines. (Here’s a whole blog post about how I used Guided Discovery.)

Why:

I don’t want to be explaining procedures for crayons until May. I make a big deal about slowly and intentionally introducing classroom materials from the get-go. This eliminates so many problems!

The First 6 Weeks of School from Responsive Classroom is the gold standard in using this approach!

What I do:

Each student buying school lunch has to enter a 5-digit code. I hand out cardstock key pads and each student’s number. Doesn’t matter if they have home lunch, even if they know they’ll have home lunch all year…EVERYONE practices their number.

Why:

It’s just easier!

If they were in the district last year, they have the same number, but there’s always the panic of having forgotten. I used to print the numbers on cardstock and gather them to redistribute the next day. However, it’s much easier to print 5 or 6 sets (enough to get through Monday of the second week) on paper.

Every kid (even kids with home lunch) brings their number to lunch. If they don’t need it? Great! If they do need it? Glad they have it! And then it gets thrown away. That way I don’t have to worry about that one kid who actually needs it losing it and not having it for the next day!

After lunch, the kids go outside to play. I suppose if I were really dedicated, I’d go out for that recess, too, but honestly by this point, I need a break! I do try to go outside a few minutes before the bell so the kids can remember when and where to line up.

What I do:

After recess, I swing them by the bathroom (again!) and then we gather back at the rug for a story. Every year, I read the same thing: Morris Goes to School. It’s the right humor level for 2nd graders and I substitute my own name for the teacher’s name and they always get a kick out of it!

Why:

Normally, the 2nd grade has specialty classes right after lunch. However, with budget constraints, our speciality teachers don’t work the first weeks or last weeks of school. Bummer! So reading is a nice transition back from recess.

What I do:

We transition from sitting on the rug in rows to sitting in a circle. The movement is a good way to wake them up! The kids who haven’t shared yet get their 3 things from their backpack to show us.

Why:

This sharing activity helps kids feel like valued members of the class and gives me get insights into my new students. It also helps introduce the speaking and listening skills we’ll need all year. We talk about the behaviors of a good audience: how to sit, how to listen, how to ask appropriate follow-up questions.

When the speakers are done sharing, they end with “I’m now ready for questions or comments.” That’s the same phrase they’ll use to end their Morning Meeting sharing in a few days. Then they can choose 2 students to ask a question about what they’ve shared.

This all takes some guidance at the beginning, but they’ll be pros in a few weeks!

What I do:

Similar to what I did with crayons, I introduce pencils. This time students practice with a maze (with another activity copied on the back for a fast finisher).

Why:

We’ll use pencils all day long for 180 days. I want to ensure that we get off on the right foot and minimize any future issues.

BONUS: Click here to download a FREE Guided Discovery of Pencils

What I do:

I teach the kids some kind of tag game. Then, after another visit to the bathroom, we go outside to play.

Why:

We won’t normally have an afternoon recess, but by this point on the first day the kids are getting restless. This gives us a chance to stretch our legs.

Instead of being a free choice like the morning recess, the whole class plays the same game. Two of the main causes of recess problems are a) kids getting bored and b) arguing over rules. This eliminates both headaches.

Second graders love tag. By teaching them how to play, I’m giving them another recess choice and setting clear rules so everyone understands how to play. Prevent all the problems!!

What I do:

After our tag break (and another pass by the bathroom), I introduce Morning Work. We complete the first page as a class and take a look at the page for Day 2. I answer any questions they have about tomorrow’s work.

Why:

I want students to be able to be as independent as possible in the mornings so I can deal with all the little tasks on my plate. So I prepare them ahead of time about what to do when they first arrive tomorrow (and every day after that).

What I do:

The line leaders have already been introduced to their jobs, but this is the point where I teach the kids with jobs about their other responsibilities. I rotate kids through jobs weekly and not every child has a job every week.

Why:

Most class jobs have end-of-day responsibilities: retrieve the lunch tote with all the lunch boxes, gather pencils, sharpen pencils, pass out papers, stack chairs, reset the lunch count, wipe the boards, etc. I explain the jobs and get the kids going.

The kids without jobs are assigned the task of monitoring those who do. They’re asked to show me a thumbs up if the job is being completed the way I specified. Difficult to do a whole class practice on this procedure!

What I do:

Once the end-of-day jobs are completed, we gather back at the rug for read aloud. This is when I read from a chapter book. For the first 2 or 3 days, I read Freckle Juice by Judy Blume.

Why:

Our normal routine will be that the kids with jobs complete them while the rest of the class listens to the book. I start with Freckle Juice because it’s short and humorous. And I have freckles, so it’s a good way to connect with the kids by sharing some of my experiences when I was their age.

Also, our first math unit (that we’ll start the 2nd week of school) deals with graphing. We graph our hair colors, eye colors, and whether or not we have freckles. This is a good segue into that unit.

What I do:

Normally, I leave the last 5 minutes to pack up before the bell. But on the first day, we need about 15 minutes!

I explain their homework folders and where to put any papers. Then they get their backpacks and stand by their desks.

For the first few days, I have to get kids assigned to the right bus. Each bus rider is given a construction paper shape that corresponds with one of the buses.

This is where it gets a little hairy.

For the kids who will be picked up by an older sibling (or aren’t sure if they’re getting picked up by an older sibling!), I have them stand outside the classroom against the wall and make them promise not to move until a brother or sister gets them.

For the bus kids, I walk them outside and get them quickly sorted to the right bus. The office staff is outside to help direct (bless them!). Then I hurry back in to wait with the remaining students.

When the bell rings, I help students get to the right places and then run outside to help with the bus lines.

Once the last little one is safely on their way home, I pretty much fall on the ground. I’m exhausted just having typed all this–I can’t believe I lived through it!!

And then I remember I have to do it alllllll again the next day!


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Whether you’re a seasoned veteran or a brand-new teacher, I hope you found something here to support you on your back-to-school journey (whether or not you teach 2nd grade)!

If you’re looking for additional resources to help you with your first day of school, check out (some affiliate links):

Check out a recent FB Live where we take you through our first day of school in 2nd grade!

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Welcome!

After a combined 14 years in 2nd grade, sisters Heidi & Emily are passionate about helping simplify life for other teachers!

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