The first days of school are important because they can set the tone for how the rest of the school year will go. The pressure that comes along with first impressions can make anyone anxious! Shake away the awkward silence and butterflies on the first day and ease into your expectations and curriculum with icebreaker games. This will let the students warm up to each other and you. Even if you have the same students from the year before, there is usually a readjustment period. Building and rebuilding relationships is crucial to get everyone comfortable and show you truly care about each of your artists.
In addition to games, there are a ton of other unexpected activities you can do on the first day of school. Watch the First Day Activities Pack in PRO Learning for more ideas. If you’re feeling brave, break out the art supplies and dive into artmaking on day one with these five ideas.
Below are 10 ideas to get to know your students on the first day of art class and break the awkward ice.
1. Participate in a design challenge.
Step into the semester with a creativity design challenge. Use random supplies you have left over from last year, provide a challenge, and then let students collaborate and experiment. For example, challenge students to create a wearable hat that functions as a straw. Provide staples, paper, tape, and scissors. Students work together to create prototypes for a functional hat. Then, they share their flops and gains with the class. Doing a challenge on the first day will show you which students are leaders, hard workers, focused, innovative, and more. Hear more art room hacks from high school art teacher, Matt Young, in the video below.
2. Play Pictionary.
Play this classic party game to observe how students interact and see what foundational drawing skills they have. Prepare by writing or printing silly nouns on slips of paper and place them in a container. Break the class into small groups or play as a whole class. Select a student to grab a noun and illustrate it. The first student who guesses correctly gets to go next.
3. Draw a hybrid mash-up.
Introduce a game called Hybrid Mash-Up—a game guaranteed to ignite creativity and be an art room favorite. Just like in the previous game, prepare a bowl of nouns on slips of paper, like Mona Lisa, American Gothic, sneakers, and pizza. Select two students to each take a noun. The pair has to work together to incorporate both nouns into one drawing. For example, if students choose the Mona Lisa and sneakers, the students could draw the Mona Lisa wearing sneakers. The possibilities are limitless!
4. Curate statements for a round of Mother May I.
Many middle and high school students may be hesitant but give this game a shot. It’s a great game for teachers and students to get to know each other. Make a list of statements that resonate with student interests. For example, statements could include: I rode the bus to school this morning or I have never taken an art class before. Line the students up along one wall. If the statement applies to a student, they take one step forward. This exercise shows students commonalities among them.
5. Construct an “All About You” sculpture.
Prepare strips of paper in every color of the rainbow and share a paper-folding menu. Each paper manipulating technique represents a characteristic. For example, all students whose favorite class is P.E. will accordion fold a strip of green paper. When all the techniques are complete, each student will take their paper components and compose a sculpture. This artwork is another way to show students what they have in common.
6. Complete a coloring page.
Coloring pages are easy and relaxing on the first day of school. Plus, many students really enjoy coloring! If you’re feeling creative, design your own coloring sheet or search the internet for one. The coloring sheet can represent your school mascot and community or it can illustrate basic art supply procedures.
7. Start a game of Telephone.
A game of Telephone can quickly get twisted and tricky, but that’s the point and students love it! Compile a list of acceptable statements for the game. Great statements for the first day can cover class procedures or fun facts about you. Line students up and let the first student whisper one of the statements to their neighbor. Each student whispers the statement to the next in line. The last person in line shares the statement out loud. Sometimes, the statement stays exactly the same throughout the whole line. Other times, the statement evolves into something totally different! This activity can also illustrate how quickly gossip can spread.
8. Go on a scavenger hunt.
The first day can be full of sitting and rules. Shake things up and get students moving around the studio! Take photos of important stations or spots in your classroom. Print (and laminate!) them. Cut them up into smaller pieces, like a puzzle. Each table will get a puzzle to assemble. Once students complete their puzzles, they find the corresponding station or spot in your classroom. Go over what each station is, how to use it properly, and why it’s important. For a simpler scavenger hunt, grab a complimentary download.
9. Design sketchbook covers.
We love the allure of a freshly bound sketchbook and many of our students do too! Whether you make them or buy them, sketchbooks are art room gold. Sketchbooks are special for our students because they are uniquely theirs, and they work hard on them all year. It creates a visual memory of their year with you! Allocate time to design covers that reflect individual interests and include block or bubble names. This is a great way to get to know your students as you circulate the room. See how Sarah Krajewski makes and stores student sketchbooks in the video below.
10. Fill out a student survey.
Let students share their interests with you before locking in lesson plans. This can help you determine your students’ level as you plan for the year. You can ask them if they’ve taken an art class before, what art supplies they’ve used, and what they’d love to learn this year! Surveys don’t have to be boring tests. Make an interactive sheet and ask students to fill in their favorites, like the All About Me worksheet.
The first day of art class can be intimidating for both you and your students. Coloring pages and moving hands through silly, low-pressure drawings usually shake off the back-to-school jitters. Here at AOEU, we have you covered with great resources for easy art activities and projects on the first day of school to get you creating more and lecturing less. Build relationships over creativity design challenges and games while also setting expectations. While it’s easier said than done, don’t stress about your big “to-do” list—it will be there tomorrow. Carve out space to be present with your students to start the year off right.
Here are three more back-to-school articles to guide you through your first day:
- 3 Steps to the Best First Day
- How to Plan Your First Day at the High School Level
- How to Make Your First Day of Teaching Middle School Art a Blast
What does the first day of school look like in your art room?
Share a student-favorite design challenge!
Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.