First Day of School....the Lesson Plans

Let me preface this by saying that this is a LONG post.  But bear with me.  There is a lot of information and a lot of useful stuff for a surprise at the end.  It is worth it.  I promise :)

For me, one of my biggest summer stressers is getting my first day of school planned out.  I always want to make sure that I have enough activity to keep the kids engaged and occupied, but I also want to set up my rules and set the tone for our year long classroom culture.   It is tough balancing classroom management, rigorous academic pursuits, and fun.  (I mean, I do want the kids to WANT to come back :) )  So over the years, I have tried my hardest to refine what I do on the first day of school so that we are productive and exciting, all rolled into one.

What I thought I would do here in this post is lay out my schedule for you.  I will go hour by hour, heck, minute by minute and show you exactly what I do on that all important first day of school.  If you like this schedule, you can print it out here.

Now, if you are hoping to read something mindblowing and amazing, you probably won't.  I save the mindblowing for later in the year ;)  I just want the kids to come in, feel like they are part of a good classroom, and set the tone for the 179 more days to come.

Before school starts, I set out a pencil and a questionnaire on each desk.  I don't have name tags out.  I want the students to sit wherever they want.  Why?  One, it let's them feel sort of special that they can choose their own seat and two, it tells me who their friends are.   I get a little, instant snapshot into my class from the first second of the year.
First day of school questionnaire to get to know the students
8:10 - 8:30am (20 minutes)  Classroom Opening
Students walk in, choose a seat, and begin working silently.  As they are working on the questionnaire (you can grab a copy of it here), I walk around and take attendance.  I generally look on the name portion of their paper but, as is usually the case, not everyone puts their name on it so I quietly ask names.  I introduce myself at the same time.  Making the visual name recognition matched to a face helps me to learn the kids' names a bit faster.

If you have access to Google Docs on your first day, you can use this online version of the questionnaire here....and it is editable too!

8:30 - 8:45am (15 minutes)  Morning Greeting
After, I introduce myself and our morning greeting.  I have written multiple times about this, so I will just leave it at that.  :)

Great way to use the Important Book as a get to know the students activity in the begging of the school year8:45 - 9:15am (30 minutes)  The Important Thing About Me
Next, I like to get right into academic pursuits before diving into rules.  Since the kids are still in the "honeymoon stage" in the first hour of school, I figure it is as good a time as any to get them reading and writing.  If you read my blog at all, you know how much I love The Important Book .  I use is all.the.time.  It is just a great, great book that can be applied to so many different things.  So we started off the year reading this fast read and discussed what makes our own selves so important and unique.  The students then create a circle map of the most unique and mundane qualities they possess.  In the coming days, they will use that map to create a fun little "All About Me" type writing (you can read about it in detail here)

9:15 - 10:00am (45 minutes)  Classroom Rules 
Finally we begin in on the classroom rules.  I have the students brainstorm a list of things they think would make great rules in our room.   They usually come up with all sorts of things, from no running to don't talk when the teacher is talking.  "We" then decide upon the 5 "umbrella rules" that would encompass most of the little rules they came up with.  I put "we" in quotation marks because, really, I have those predetermined.  I just guide my students to think they came up with them. Tomorrow we will use the Circle Map to sort the little rules under the main umbrella rules.  (for the full lesson, see this post can also get the templates to use in your classroom.)
Displaying the rules that were created together on the first day of 5th grade.

10:00 - 10:15am (15 minutes)  Yard Rules
After discussing class rules, we do a bit of yard rules.  What is our play area?  Where do we line up?  How do we get into number order?   How do we all play together?  I don't go too much into it because 1) they are 5th graders and 2) again I want to see what they do.  If all heck breaks loose, I will know that I need to get into my "make good choices" lessons tomorrow.

10:15 - 10:35am  (20 minutes)  Recess 
Time to breathe :) - 11:00am  (25 minutes)  Calendar Math
When we enter into the room, I introduce the procedures for Calendar Math.  This is SUCH an important part of my math block.  I get the kids started from day one on this.  During recess, I place a blank calendar page with pieces blocked off that I don't want them to do.  When they come in, the kids immediately get to work.  I know they won't finish, but that is ok.  I just want them to get into the routine.  After about 10 minutes, we go over it together.  Again, I show them the procedure of using a red pen and really correcting any mistakes.  This isn't about getting everything perfect, it is about learning.

11:00 - 11:30am  (30 minutes)  Math Diagnostic Test
A math diagnostic test is next.  On the first day I want to make sure I get some semblance of where they are math wise before I start in with Math Rotations.   This diagnostic is all of the 4th grade standards that they really should have mastered.  It helps to give me little snapshot of their math skills so I can plan from there.  It also helps to keep the day "academic".  You can pick up the diagnostic test here
Give this math test at the beginning of the year in 5th grade to see exactly where your students are.

Perfect spiral math for fifth grade that can start on day one of school.
11:30 - 12:10am  (40 minutes)  Classroom Economy Introduction
On the first day of school I definitely get into my Classroom Economy.  The kids are so crazy excited by it!  I pass out their first dollars and then they buy their first wallets.  We discuss earnings and fines, expenses and jobs.   The first day is a basic overview but it really pumps them up for this classroom management tool.  Once the "rules" are set in place, I begin handing out money for anything they do that is good and even start fining if I have to.
The first day of school is the ideal time to begin a classroom economy in fifth grade.

12:10 - 12:50pm  (40 minutes)  Lunch
Breathe and eat.  :)

Great get to know you activity for the first day of fifth grade.
12:50 - 1:20pm  (30 minutes)  All Hands In
At this point, the students are given a large piece of white paper.  I ask them to trace their hands, with arms.  The kids then use the circle map to start drawing different aspects of their personalities on the hand.  This really is the beginning of their first homework project.  Here is the entire lesson if you wish to read it.

1:20 - 1:50pm  (30 minutes)  Clean Up and Homework Procedure
We learn our clean up procedure here.  I actually pass out the Procedure Manual for the first time and we head to the back where it talks about our 60 second clean up.  This manual will be used in great detail in the coming days, but on day one, we just read this part.  Then, I pass out the planners given to us by my school.  The kids write their first homework assignment in it.  Homework on day one is the following:

Have your parents sign and return the parent forms
Using a procedure manual with all classroom procedures is a great way to get the students to buy in to rules in fifth grade.

I want them to have homework, but I like to easy into it rather slowly.  Again, I want them to *want* to come back ;)

1:50 - 2:20pm (30 minutes)  Read Aloud
Once the homework is written, students head to the rug for our first read aloud of the year, There's A Boy in the Girls' Bathroom .  (this is my affiliate link and will take you to the book to buy on Amazon)  I always start with this one because it is fast, easy to understand, engaging, and has a great lesson that carries us the entire year.  We read for as long as we have left before the bell rings.  I always make sure there is sufficient time for this on the first day of school. 

2:20 - 2:30pm  (10 minutes)  End of Day Dismissal Routine
I share with my students our end of day routine, which consists of me standing at the door, dismissing the kids from the rug.  They put their chairs up and head to the door where I look them in the eye and bow.  It is a nice, calm way to end the day and still have a connection with each child.  Sometimes I say, "It was nice to teach you today" or something to them.  Sometimes it is just silent.  Either way, the kids get a sense of closure on the day.

Now, breathe.

My first day is pretty filled.  Sometimes I don't finish everything.  Sometimes things take longer than I had planned.  Sometimes I need to fill in extra minutes here and there with little mental math games or ice breakers or read alouds.  But in general, the day flows nicely.  Do we have full bulletin boards by the end of day one?  No.  Do we have every single rule memorized?  No.  Do we feel productive and like we are on our way to a great 5th grade year?  Yes.

Want to read even more Back to School ideas? Hop on over to some more excellent upper elementary teachers for their ideas too!


  1. Loved all your first day resources! Perfect! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thank you! I hope that some of them are useful to you in your own classroom :)

  2. I am also a 5th grade teacher and it was so helpful to see how another 5th grade teacher spend their first day! It is amazing how we barely get a chance to breathe! Have a great year!

    1. That's what the summer is for, right? ;)

  3. This will be my 5th year teaching 5th and these are fantastic ideas! Can't wait to use them to get the year off to a fantastic start!

  4. Stephanie, I just found your blog and enjoyed looking at your first day plan. I was not able to access any of the items that were linked to your google drive. Any suggestions? Thanks.

  5. I enjoyed reading your blog this morning. It's nice to find an upper elementary teacher blog! Great ideas!

  6. Thanks for all your great ideas! It's great to see an upper grade teacher's ideas. They give me needed fresh ideas.

  7. Thank you for taking the time to share all of these wonderful ideas! I have only been teaching a short time, and finding your blog is like having a mentor teacher right in my living room. I'm grateful you have taken the time to create and share. I have downloaded your writing program and cannot wait to try it out this year! I'll be teaching a 5/6 split.

  8. I would love to be a student in your room. Your first day of school plans look great! So many great ideas I will definitely borrow. I always love reading your blog posts.

    Thanks for sharing!
    Shepherd's Shining Stars

    1. That is so nice of you to say! Thank you so much Mrs. Shepherd for following along with me here :)

  9. Thank you for sharing with us a sneak peek at your day in the classroom! It looks fabulous!

    Teaching Autism

  10. This post is amazing! I wish I had read this when I was teaching 5th grade!

  11. Thank you for such a detailed plan!! It is great to see a step by step plan!

  12. I must say you are one of the most organized, creative, generous, . . . . teachers I've ever had the privilege to follow. Thank you so much for taking the time to not only create but to freely share your wonderful work. I truly appreciate the time and effort you put forth in creating such amazing resources! I look forward to "seeing" you throughout the school year. Have a great beginning!! Susan Peak

  13. This is such a great layout of the first day. I think all first year teachers would benefit from this post. You should make up a little image that says that and put it on pinterest. I am no longer a classroom teacher (ESL teacher) so my first day looks quite different (wander around, greet students, help out as needed). When I was a classroom teacher, I don't know that I managed to pack as much in as you did! We had shortened first day though and a long old assembly. . .

    My Bright Blue House

  14. This coming year will be my 10th (!) year in 5th grade, and I still remember the blind panic I felt on my very first day of school. WHAT IS TEACHING, HOW DO I FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL?! Ha! I wish I had had your blog post then, this is a perfect resource for how to pace that first day. Have a great year!!

  15. I use The Important Book in my classroom too, but not for a first day of school activity. I love your idea of creating the writing piece and collage. Thank you for sharing it!
    Coffee Cups and Lesson Plans

  16. It's still three weeks away, but I am finally beginning to focus on "real" plans. Thanks for the wonderful step-by-step commentary. I can guarantee: There will be plenty of borrowing going on! I appreciate the guidance and the inspiration!

    Finding JOY in 6th Grade

  17. When do you organize student supplies?

  18. I have used many books to read aloud to begin the year. I like this one very much for grade 5. another fun fast start is Why did the Underwear Cross the Road? By Gordon Korman


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