Series: First Days of School: It's Always Awkward in the Beginning

Making the Most of Your First Day
Lesson Objective: Build community in the first 10 minutes of class
Grades 9-12, All Subjects, Class Culture

Thought starters

  1. How does Ms. Wessling get to know her students in just ten minutes?
  2. What does Ms. Wessling share about herself? Why do you think she does this?
  3. How could you adapt the wish activity for use in your own classroom?

I could use the handshakes at the beginning, need to do attendance and then instead of a birthday wish.....I can use a notecard and have each one answer one question and have them turn it in. What is that question???

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Have them write a statement or describe something they feel is unique about them. 

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Being as specific as possible, you could also ask the students to write down one thing that they want to learn this school year. Whenever the opportunity presents itself, make an effort to integrate that into a lesson.

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I like Ms. Wessling's plan because it is unique, personal, non-threatening and asks them to trust her with information. The other ideas are very good BUT not as creative.  I would want to know that information too but I think the theme and adding the cupcakes is much more engaging and carries through with the theme.  Not blowing out the candle, her own anniversary, their wish...all of this is tightly connected with a theme that is "fun" but still academic.  Makes the students thing, "hum, this teacher is interested in me and I think she will be clever and fun while we are learning."

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On the first day with my 8th graders, I read just a bit of O, the Places You’ll Go! and then hand out an image of two feet on cardstock. The kids decorate them and then write two goals for the year- one academic and one purely personal. They go up on a bulletin board and later we revisit to see how everyone is progressing. It’s fun to see what they’ve decided they are “going” to do this year. 

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  • Making the Most of Your First Day Transcript

    Sarah: All right everybody. How are you? You doing all right?

    Whenever I start a new class,

    Sarah: All right everybody. How are you? You doing all right?

    Whenever I start a new class, whether that is at the beginning of the year or a new semester, I know that my first ten minutes are really crucial. You're in the right place?

    Speaker 2:      Yeah.

    Sarah: Wonderful. This is a really unique lesson because on the very first day of school I only get to meet my students for ten minutes and I want to use that ten minutes to do three things. I want to connect with them. I want to start to put a name to a face and I want them to start to think forward.

    Ben:    Ben.

    Sarah: Ben, nice to meet you. Ms. Wessling.

    Brianna:         Brianna.

    Sarah: When students are walking into the classroom, my goal is to be close to the door, outside the door, right inside the door, some place where I can look them in the eye, smile, shake their hand and introduce myself.

    Mitchell:         Hi, nice to meet you.

    Sarah: Oh. And you are?

    Mitchell:        Mitchell.

    Sarah:          Mitchell. Ms. Wessling. Nice to meet you. My grandfather would be proud of that handshake. Okay. On a scale of one to five. Five, awesome, amazing and fabulous. One, no. Where you at? You're a zero? We got a seven and a zero. All right. The litmus scale just got huge.

               After that initial connection that I make with students there are some of those normal, predictable housekeeping things that you have to do. Namely, you have to take attendance.

    Josephine? Josie. Awesome. Thanks Josie.

    I think about it as opportunity number two to start to put a name to a face.

    Is it Gianna?

    Gianna: Gianna.

    Sarah: Did I say it right? No. It's Gianna.

    I also use this time to make sure that I'm saying their names correctly. I tell them I want to be sure I get this right. I know how important this is to you because I know how important it is to me. Help me. Percat.

    Sarah: You have to hold me accountable.

    Percat: Will do.

    Sarah: Promise?

                Once I have made that initial connection with students, then I really have just a few minutes to make sure that my students have an experience, and I know that when I plan this first ten minutes, I want to use the time in some way that's gonna be memorable.

                Okay. So, in the two minutes we have, here we go. There are three things that I need you to know about me. Number one, there is no place that I would rather be right now than right here, and I am entirely honest. The second thing you need to know, is that I never feel like when I come to this school, or when I go anywhere to teach, like it's a job. I do it because I want to, and it really feels like that to me. I love it.

                When I am being really honest with students about why I love this work, it's really easy to cross this line into relying on too much emotion. So, I think it's really important to be genuine and to be honest, but not feel like you have to disclose everything in order for it to be effective.

                And the third thing you need to know is that today is a really special day for me, because this is the beginning of my 20th year of teaching, and I thought that, since it felt like a birthday, we should celebrate it like it's a birthday, so I have one thing for you that I need you to do before you leave. I have a little note card here. Because what do you do when you have a birthday cake? What do you put on it? Candles. And then what do you say when you put candles and you light them? Then what do you say? Make a wish. Okay, so this is what I'm going to ask you to do. I'm going to ask you to make a wish.

                As I was preparing that part of the lesson, I wanted students to have more agency in this wish, and I wanted them to think about it more like a goal or a way that they could be this year.

                It could be about this class. It could be about your year, it could be whatever you want, okay? You can see that I've lit the candles for you, but we are not going to blow them out. You know why we're not going to blow them out?

                I always feel like, as soon as you blow out the candles on a birthday cake, you've left that wish to fate, and I don't think you should leave your wish to fate. I think it should be a bit of a commitment. Okay? Put your name on it. If you could put the class period, that would be awesome. On your way out, I will exchange the wish for a birthday cupcake. Does that sound good?

                Okay, here you go. Come grab a card. You're not going to share these with anybody else in the room, but you are going to share them with me. I'm asking you because I really want to know, and because I actually care. Okay?

                As they leave, I got to look at their faces one more time, I got to see their names on the card, so this is three times in that first ten minutes that I'm connecting names to face.

                Help yourself to the cupcakes if you want them. Okay, goodbye.

                My hope is that they leave with a feeling and that feeling they then can start to connect to our space.

    Speaker 8:      Happy birthday.

    Sarah: Thank you.

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School Details

Johnston Senior High School
6501 Nw 62nd Ave
Johnston IA 50131
Population: 1541

Data Provided By:



Sarah Brown Wessling
English Language Arts / 10 11 12 / Teacher



All Grades / All Subjects / Tch Tools

Lesson Idea

Grades 9-12, All Subjects, Class Culture

Lesson Idea

Grades 9-12, ELA, Class Culture

Teaching Practice

All Grades / All Students / Class Culture