Five Classroom Elements to Discuss with Students the First Day of School

Aug 8, 2016 · 4 min read

It’s that time again: the first day of school is just around the corner! Like many teachers, you’re probably a giddy mix of emotions: excitement to meet your new students, nervous about making a strong impression, and eager to get a start on this year’s learning experiences. That’s what makes education such a timeless and engaging field: whether you’re a seasoned expert or a first-year teacher, there’s more to learn every time you enter the classroom. The teacher-student relationship is a dynamic, interactive pattern of exchanging knowledge that revamps every year as new students fall under your wing. As you think about what lessons you hope to pass on and take away from your students this school year, start with the very first day. To help you get inspired, we’ve put together 5 important elements of the learning environment to discuss with your students that will set the foundation for a productive, responsive, and engaging experience.

  1. Their Classmates

In today’s classroom, one of the most important elements of which students should be fully aware is each other. The success of collaborative problem solving and project based learning depends on a positive classroom environment, respectful relationships between students, and a certain degree of intellectual comfort among classmates: they should always feel like they can share their perspectives and ideas. As a teacher, the foundation and maintenance of that atmosphere stems from your attitude and actions. Start off the year by ensuring that your students are comfortable interacting with one another in an academic setting — use icebreakers or fun activities as conversation starters to ease their nerves.

2. The Rules

As much as they may resist, most students genuinely like having expectations in place. It provides guidance that, in turn, establishes a sense of security. If you’re a first-year teacher, you’ve probably been mulling over your classroom rules for a while now. Don’t overthink it too much: set no more than 5, and chose those that make sense and feel natural to you. Depending on the age of your students, you’ll need to gauge how much of the rules to base on behavior, procedure, and academic misconduct. If you’re an experienced teacher, take a moment to reflect on the rules you’ve been using: do they need refreshed? Is it time to set higher or alternative expectations for your students? Consider the changes you’ve seen in the classroom in the past, and how your expectations can reflect those trends.

3. The Goals

Setting goals is absolutely crucial to leading a productive classroom. Pick a manageable number — maybe around 5 — of key learning objectives and display them creatively in your classroom, where you can refer back to them throughout the year. On the first day, it’s best to give a more general overview of these goals, potentially with a few examples of the activities that will help them reach it. It’s also important to write these goals in a language that your students can understand (without too much educational jargon). You can later use these goals to maintain some structure throughout the year, by emphasizing when one has been tackled or is coming up, which will give your kids a sense of achievement and progression. Depending on your classroom and students, you could also experiment with tracking goal achievement by individual student, either with public postings, competitions, or just individual, private records discussed in conferences.

4. The Academic Content

It might seem a little over-eager to dive into academic content on the first day of school — and by the time you get through the first three elements of the classroom, there will probably be little time left for curriculum talk. But even if it’s only a few minutes, this is your chance to get kids excited about what they’re going to learn this year. Pick one of the most exciting bits of content — for a high school English class, maybe you’ll be reading a sci-fi novel, or for elementary, maybe you’ll be introducing astronomy — and give a sort of teaser trailer. Read a page of the coolest book, show a short video clip of the most exciting topic, or even do a quick interactive activity to gauge the kids’ interests.

5. You!

If teaching and learning is a back-and-forth relationship between educators and students, then it’s important to make sure your students have a healthy sense of you before they dive into the school year. Of course, that doesn’t mean that you should tell them anything too personal or talk about yourself the whole time you’re with them, but something as little as showing them a picture of your dog or talking about your favorite foods can really go a long way in making your students feel comfortable. Remember to open up, relax, and don’t be afraid to convey your excitement about the upcoming year: hopefully, your enthusiasm will catch!

To get inspired about entering the educational space or simply to be reminded why your work is so very important, visit our collection of teacher perspectives at The Art of Teaching. For inspiration on how to have a great season, visit our Back to School Pinterest Board.

To start out your year with research-driven, effective tools, check our brand new Literacy is for Life eBook, a comprehensive guide to help you further advance your high-quality literacy instruction while discovering new ways to engage all students in meaningful, challenging literacy experiences.

Inspired Ideas

Resources, ideas, and stories for K-12 educators. We focus on learning science, educational equity, social and emotional learning, and evidence-based teaching strategies. Be sure to check out The Art of Teaching Project, our guest blogging platform for all educators.


Written by

We apply the science of learning to create innovative educational solutions and content to improve outcomes from K-20 and beyond.

Inspired Ideas

Resources, ideas, and stories for K-12 educators. We focus on learning science, educational equity, social and emotional learning, and evidence-based teaching strategies. Be sure to check out The Art of Teaching Project, our guest blogging platform for all educators.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade