Art Teacher Talk

First Day of Art Class Activities

Building Community in your Middle or High School Art Room

First Day of Art Class Activities are more important than you think. The first impression is so important, both for you and for the students. I have been using these same exact procedures for the last 13 years and they have NEVER let me down. While they are not super “techy” or super fancy, they are super effective. All I can say definitively is, “Trust me.” 

We have a 75-minute block schedule at our school, with three classes a day, seeing students every day. Our first day of school is usually shortened to about 60-65 minutes, as we have an extended homeroom for students to get schedules and get acclimated to the building layout, mostly for our Freshmen and new students.

I am an “old dog” when it comes to technology, so please don’t laugh when you get to the “put the Student Info Sheet on the Overhead Projector” part (if you’re under the age of 25 just Google that overhead projector thing up, lol). The document could also easily be uploaded to a powerpoint or Google Slide to show on some 21st Century techno-wizardry.

The first day of art class activities begins with simple supplies:

Supplies Needed to roll out the “Welcome Wagon” to your students on the first day:

  1. Student Info Sheet
  2. Printed Supply Fee Sheet (if your school allows)
  3. 4×6 Index Cards (or scrap paper cut to this approximate size)
  4. Crayola® Markers

Prep Work before first day:

View and print your rosters (even though we all know they will change over the course of the first week) and write each student’s name on one side of the card in large bold marker (I use a fat tip Sharpie or and Expo marker) – ***I do this the day before school starts, as new enrollees and schedule changes will happen up to the 11th hour.***

Separate each class into its own stack – rubber band each stack together – set aside

Speak with your Principal about collecting a small fee for your classroom supplies. I use $20 per student for the entire semester for my Drawing and Painting classes, and $30 for AP Studio Art. Do not assume that collecting fees is against district policy. This may be the case for some situations, but I operate under the umbrella of, “You don’t get if you don’t ask.” Even if you are new and people are telling you it’s never been done before, there is a first time for everything.

In this day and age with supply chain issues and rising fuel costs, your district may welcome the chance to have your supply budget supplemented, and $20 per student adds up to a nice extra chunk of change with 30 kids in each class.

Generate an email group list for each class with parent contacts for each class. We use PowerSchool and I go into the system and generate my list by copying and pasting each student’s info. I know there has to be an easier and faster way to do this, again – refer back to the “old dog” comment above. If you have a quicker way to generate your lists, by all means use that method.

Send a group email to each class’s parent/guardian with a quick “Welcome!” message and your fee letter attached – Fee Letter Template included in classroom materials – (this is only if your district allows you to collect fees) and include the link to your online school payment portal. I know that my parents would much rather go online and push a button than send in a check that may or may not ever make it to me (lol). I usually send this email 2-3 days before school starts and it enables me to collect at least half of my fees prior to the first week of school.

If your school said “no” to the fees idea, send the group emails anyway stating how you can’t wait to meet the student and how excited you are to work with these fabulous young artists. I was told on countless occasions how my “Welcome note” prior to classes starting was the only contact like this ever received from the school. This will go a LONG way in the event that you need to reach out to a parent during the school year for corrective purposes.

First Day of Art Class Activities Order of Events:

If you have been at this rodeo awhile, forgive me breaking all of this down for the new people in the ring. I sure wish someone had broken it down for me. It would have saved me a lot of headache in the first year.

We have 4-person tables at my school. You may have desks, or two person tables. Regardless, start at one end of the room and place the index cards with names on them at each seat. Go in alphabetical order, even if you know some kids or have had them in class before. Make this a uniform event with no special exceptions. It will level the playing field for the kids who are walking in for the first time.

Side Note: 

Don’t skip the step of writing the names on the cards. I like to say, “Everything you do sends a message, whether you want it to or not” and you taking the time to write 90 names on 90 cards says to the kids immediately that you care.

  1. Don’t turn on the Overhead Projector or the 21st Century Projector with the Student Info Sheet (included in materials) until the kids are all in and seated.

  2.  Stand at the door – just outside – and welcome each and every person into your room. Exude the same amount of excitement whether you know them already or not. (Remember, it’s the FIRST day of school. If it’s August then most of these kids are terrified, especially your Freshmen. Even your Seniors are scared, even though they would never admit it.)

I tell them as they are coming in to sit where their name card is and not to move their seats. No one ever really tries to move seats, but I remind them just in case.

  3. Once everyone is in and the bell has rung, I introduce myself and ask (if applicable) if everyone has had the proper pre-requisite for the class (example: If it’s Painting 1 our students have to take Drawing 1 prior). If anyone has not, I send them off to guidance to get a schedule change. If Guidance is doing their part, this will rarely happen, but we all know how this works…so make sure you ask this question before you get started. Then I tell everyone they will need a pen or a pencil to complete their info cards. (Wait patiently for them to find one or borrow one as half of them will have no writing utensil even though it is the first day of school LOLOL)

  4. Put up the Student Info Sheet (in whatever technology format you choose) and tell the students to first and foremost write their chosen name in place of the name you have written in marker on each card. I had two transgender students this Spring and it really helps them if they can begin the class letting you know in writing their preferred name/pronoun. It also sets the tone that you care about who they are and they know this in the first 5 minutes of class.

Next, tell them to flip the card over and answer the questions on the info sheet on the back side of the card. This usually takes about 10 minutes total. I tell them to write out the sections on the sheet and their response next to it (ex: “Address: 101 Main Street, Anytown, USA)

As they are filling out the cards I pass out the Supply Fee Letter (print these off on colored paper with different colors for each class – makes organizing them so much easier) and additional blank index cards (one for each student) and crayola markers (any color except yellow will do) When they are finished I collect the cards and then we go over the supply letter and the due date for fees (I usually give two weeks).

Now comes the fun part.

I tell everyone to take a blank index card and a marker and I divide the class down the middle and send half to one side of the classroom and one to the other side and I have them line up down each side. I ask them to leave the phones at the tables so their hands are free to write on the cards.

At this point I take my stool and go to the end of the classroom between both lines of kids on either side of me. I then get everyone’s attention and I tell them very honestly that this is the most important part of the entire first day – me learning their names. I then tell them that they are also the most important people in the room, and if I am going to reach them, teach them and cultivate their endless resource of creativity I must know exactly who they are, and it all starts with me knowing their names.

There is usually a dumbfounded look from them at this point, especially if there are 36 people in the room (like this past year). How can I possibly learn their names right NOW? I tell them that this is the moment of truth and let’s get started.

Me: “Everyone take your index card and write your first name on it across the top big enough so everyone can see it. Now, with the people on your side of the room only, alphabetize your line of students with the A’s on this end of the room.” Be prepared for some confusion, it’s ok, remember, they haven’t been up this early in almost 3 months and they’ve not taken direction in almost that long. It’s ok.

What you should have at the end of the exercise is them talking amongst themselves and learning each others’ names as they alphabetize their rows (a little covert operation of them learning everyone’s name whether they want to or not).

When they are rearranged, I tell them to turn their cards around and hold them so I can see them. At this point I start at the front of the line and I look the first one square in the eyes and I say their name out loud 2-3 times. Then I switch to the other side of the room and say the first person’s name with conviction 2-3 times. Then I switch back and say the second person’s name and then the first and second people’s names…then back to the other side…then back to the first side to add the 3rd person on to the name game. Then back to the other side…as I add on the new people I go back to the beginning every time and say everyone’s name (adding the new person at the end). The kids are silent because not only can they not believe I actually care enough to take the risk of messing up, but I really do want to learn their names. It sounds like it would be impossible but honestly once you have gone down each side of the room 15 times you really do know everyone’s name.

Once we do first names, we move to last names (they alphabetize by last name) and this shuffles the deck so it really helps to remember because I say first and last names for the last name challenge. Don’t get me wrong, I mess up remembering sometimes, and if I get stumped I guess wrong a few times and then I say, “Help me!” and the kids laugh and they tell me the right name and we move on.

We usually do pet names for the last round (3 rounds total) and for people with no pets they go to the “N” section and write “No Pets” on their cards and I make a huge fuss over how they need a pet and the kids laugh and it further breaks the ice. I tell them about Willi, my wiener dog (yes, his name is Willi and no, we didn’t think that one through…)

Before they sit down I thank them for indulging me in the silly game, I thank them for being in my class and that I sincerely look forward to all the fabulousness we will embark on in the coming weeks. I also tell them that from here on out they are officially, “My Kids” and I show them all the class photos of the students who came through my room before them, and that at the end of the week we will take our class photo that will go on the wall for everyone to see. Current classes go on the whiteboard at the front of the room, past classes go on the tall supply cabinet – both inside the doors and outside – it’s covered.

At this point there is usually about 10 minutes left in class so I will tell them that tomorrow when we come in we will examine our first project and that it is based solely on me getting to know each of them and finding out who they are and what interests them.

First Day of Art Class Activities Takeaways:

Things we did not do:

  1. Go over the syllabus
  2. Go over the rules
  3. Go over what I don’t allow
  4. Go over any classroom procedures

Why not?

Because all of these things are hammered into their brains in all of their other classes. They are inundated with so much procedural overload that this will be the experience they remember above all others. Someone actually spent 30-40 minutes wanting to know everyone’s name. And that teacher took a big risk, possibly forgetting, messing up, laughing at him/herself, but above all else, getting to know the kids was this person’s number one goal.

Remember that message I was talking about earlier? I just sent it loud and clear with what I prioritized on the first day of school. My relationship with each one begins with me knowing their names. There is plenty of time for syllabi and rules and procedures.

We’ll get there. First things first. Get to know the kids.

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Have a wonderful and safe year and Happy Teaching!

Tiff 🙂

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