Wednesday, July 2, 2014

What to do on the first day of school?

The hardest part of any journey is the first step. The same is true with implementing any new technique or strategy in your classroom. Change is hard. The unknown can be scary. But there's no reward for those risks not taken. So... if you are thinking of using WBT in your classroom next year...make the decision to JUST DO IT! :) The community of Whole Brain Teachers around the world is the most supportive and helpful group of people that I have ever had the pleasure of working with. There are hundreds of resources available at your fingertips, and many people available to answer your questions (and hold your hand if needed) along the way.

When I decided to start using WBT techniques in my classroom, it wasn't a hard decision. After watching hours of YouTube videos and downloading as many free eBooks from the website as I could...I knew I had to start using the strategies right away. It wasn't a choice. It was a calling. I know that now. But, to be truly transparent, you need to know that I embrace change. I love trying new things, and am constantly modifying what I do in my classroom. I've never taught the same lesson in the same way twice. Change is relatively easy for me. For many, that's not the case. Whether you embrace change, or run screaming from it, my hope is that this post will help you feel more prepared and confident to walk in to your first day of school.

And I've recently learned that some schools start the new school year in July! That's crazy. But that's off topic. :)

Back to our original question...What should you do on your first day? This post is written for those that teach class periods or blocks or different students throughout the day. If that's you...keep reading. And, even if you have one group of kids all day, you may find some helpful tips below. Please leave a comment after you're finished reading, I love the feedback!

Greet your students in the hall. (5 minutes)
This may sound strange, but doing this immediately let's your students know that there's something a little different about your classroom. Have them line up outside your door.

When the bell rings, start by saying, "Please look at me." It sounds funny, but what will happen is you will get a few more kids looking at you who weren't previously, and it sets the tone that you are in control of the environment.

Next, you are going to welcome them and quickly introduce yourself.. Say something like, "I'm so excited to meet all of you today. I'm Mrs. Meador, and I'll be your science teacher for the year."

Finally, you are going to teach them the class yes. You can say, "We will be doing a lot of moving and talking in class this year, and I need to be able to get your attention very quickly. To do that, we use something called the 'class yes'. When I say class, you say yes. Class! (a few of your students will say yes). Good. Now however I say class, that's how you say yes. If I say "Class Class!" then you say...(a few of your students will say "Yes Yes!'" You can try a couple varieties of class yes, and praise your students for their attention.

Now your students are ready to enter your room. Give them directions as to how they are to find their seats. I prefer to have a seating chart posted on my SMART board, and ask that students use that to find their assigned seat. While they are doing this, I take careful observations of who are the leaders, the followers, the clowns, the shy ones, and the clueless.  Yup, I said clueless. You know you've got some. We love them anyway. :)

Learn everyone's name. (10 minutes)
The best, most extraordinary way that I've found to learn students' names is called The Name Game. It's very simple. Tell the kids that you need their help to learn everyone's name. As you point to a kid, they tell you their name. Point to a kid, "Johnny". Point to a kid, "Sue". Point to a kid, "James". Then you repeat the names, in order, two or three times, while you point to them. (Johnny, Sue, James, Johnny, Sue. James." Then the whole class says the names together. "Johnny, Sue James."

Now you go on to the next three kids. Point to them, one at a time, and they each say their names. Then, go back to Johnny, and say all of the kids' names in order two or three times. Then the class says all of the names in order with you.

Repeat this until you've gotten through the whole class. Don't forget to call a Class Yes if they start having too much fun and losing control. Reign them back in with the Class Yes.

Now, here's the magic: If you forget a name, ask the class 'Who is this?" And then say, "You got it, great job!" Even if you know the kid's name, you can still use this trick. The point here is not to just learn the names yourself, but to engage your students into learning each other's names as well. Don't be afraid to make a mistake - this is your chance to show your kids that you are human, and that you know how to laugh! There should be a lot of laughing and fun in the game. And it really does work! I learn 120+ students' names on day 1. The next day I silently play the game again to myself while they are working on something. I repeat that every day for a few days, and usually within the week I know all kids names. Even when they change clothes. Even in the hallway. Oh yeah.

 Slowly introduce the Teach OK. (5 minutes)
Getting buy in on this is absolutely critical. So a slow entrance works best. First, you want to sprinkle in moments, right from the start of class, where you have the kids say things to each other. For example, when you are giving directions for the Name Game (above), you could say something like, "I need your help to learn everybody's names. I want to have all of your names memorized in the next ten minutes. Tell your neighbor, "She can't do it!" Well, let's see if I can!"

Do this several times, where you ask each kid to "Tell your neighbor..." Tell them exactly what you want them to say. You want to get them used to the fact that they won't be allowed to sit there and blend in. No one is under an invisibility cloak. This is a talking class, and everybody gets to talk. You're giving them the exact phrase to repeat so there's no fear of having to come up with something. You also want to have them say funny things to each other, which shows them that it's ok to laugh and have fun!

After you've had them tell their neighbor a few specific things, now it's time for them to "Tell your neighbor everything I just said." This next scaffolded step towards the teach ok gets them used to using their own words to repeat something you've said.  A great example is to list out everything they need to bring to class. You might say, "For this class, you will need to bring your green folder, green notebook, agenda, and pencil. Green folder, green notebook, agenda, and pencil." As you list these things out, use your "big counters". Hold four finger up with your left hand, then swing your right hand around in a big way to land on each finger of your left hand. When you say green folder you swing your right hand around to the first finger on your left hand. When you say green notebook you swing your right hand around to the second finger on your left hand, etc. Then say, "Now tell your neighbor, using your big counters, everything I just said."

Using the big counters is a great way to get kids using gestures, which is the next step.

Introduce Mirror Words. (10 minutes)
Explain to the kids that when you say "Mirror Words", they say, "Mirror Words" and raise their hands ready to mirror your gestures. Then whatever you do and say, they do and say. More on how to keep upper grade kids engaged with Mirror Words (and get their buy in). For now, you are just introducing it. You can do a silly mirror check, wave your arms around crazily, get them laughing as they follow you. It's important to practice using mirrors here, and with limited time in upper grades, the best practice is with something you need to tell them on that first day (like we did with the supplies in step 3). For me, I go right to the rules. I have them mirror me as I teach them all five rules.
Rule 1: Follow directions quickly (swim your right hand through the air like a fish swimming forward)
Rule 2: Raise your hand for permission to speak) raise your right hand, then make a talking motion with your hand)
Rule 3: Raise your hand for permission to leave your seat, aaahhhh (raise your right hand, then walk your two fingers through the air, then throw your right arm back into the air for the "aaahhh")
Rule 4: Make smart choices (use your right pointer finger to tap your temple three times)
Rule 5: Keep your dear teacher happy (make a picture frame underath your face with both hands and smile!)
After I have shown them and had them mirror each rule, I'll ask them to TURN and tell their neighbor each of the rules over and over. Notice the continued scaffolding towards the teach okay. Earlier they said something to their neighbor, then they explained something to their neighbor, now I'm asking them to TURN and tell their neighbor OVER and OVER.

Teach the full Teach Okay. (10 minutes)
Now you're ready to show them the entire Teach Okay. Tell them that all class period long you've been asking them to talk with their partner, and that in this class they will be talking more than you. In this class, they will get to talk almost the entire class period most days. That will get their attention.

Explain that you when you clap twice and say, "Teach!" they will clap twice and say "Okay". Have them practice this a few times.

Next explain that after they say Okay, they will do a full turn to their partner, shoulders facing shoulders. Have them practice this a few times. Get their attention back with a class yes. Now have them tell their partners that your Grandma moves faster than them. What was rule 1 again? Have them tell you with the gesture. And have them practice the teach Okay with full turn a few more times, faster.

Finally, show them that after their full turn, their arms should be up ready to gesture. Have them just practice the teach, okay, full turn, arms up routine a few times. Praise those groups loudly that are doing great. Say things like, "This side is doing great, I'm not so sure about that side over there." but be very vague about which side you're talking about. Be mysterious, it keeps them on their toes.

Now you're ready to use the teach Okay. Here's where I fit in all of the other stuff that I'm "supposed" to do on the first day. All of the administrative stuff that I am supposed to do can be given in short segments, using mirror words to highlight the key ideas, and followed up by a teach okay. Before the first time, you'll need to say, "Now when I clap twice and say teach, you clap twice and say ok...then you're going to do a full turn, make big exciting gestures, and TEACH your neighbor over and over what I just said. Imagine that you are now the teacher, and you have to explain it to your partner. Keep explaining xyz (insert a reminder of whatever it is you just talk them), over and over, until I call you back with a class yes.

DONE! IN 40 minutes, you've taught the class yes, mirror words, 5 rules, and teach okay.

Disclaimer: It is YOUR classroom. Nothing in this post is meant to be absolute. It is example of what you can get done in an upper grade classroom in a 40 minute class period on day 1. Every school and classroom is unique, so it's up to you to tweak these examples to fit your needs. If you have any trouble figuring out how to do that, please leave a comment; I'd love to help!

Next up...Day 2: the Scoreboard, complete sentence answers, and Brainies! Coming soon...


  1. Great post, but look at rule 3: permission to leave your seat not speak. This is a great way to start the year. WBT saves us time and headache. I love reading your posts and thank your for all you do for us rookies.

  2. Thanks Deb! I fixed it. You're awesome! :)

  3. This is going to be very useful for the first day. It will make all the first day announcements more fun for the kids and for me!

  4. Great Elizabeth! I'm glad you found it useful!

  5. Your post was inspirational in many ways! In fact, it inspired me to make a poster. Hopefully you can use it, too. Check it out here:

  6. Thanks for posting. I start in July.

    1. AAAAHH that is so crazy! I'm right next to eh Wisconsin border, and they (by law) can't start until after Labor Day. I had never heard of schools starting in July until talking with some teachers at the Louisiana conference this summer. So crazy! Well, enjoy your last few weeks of vacation algebrateach!! :)

    2. This is SO helpful. I start Sept. 2.

  7. Sarah, quick question... do you teach rule 5 to middle school students? I'm guessing you do since this is a middle school blog LOL!

    I will have 6 & 8 next year. I totally see the kids in 6th buying in, but I'm worried about the 8th graders and rule 5. Do you have any hints for me?

    I'm reading Coach's book now... it's helping me a lot!!

    1. Hi Michele! Thanks for commenting on my post! Yes, I teach the rules, as shown above to all of my middle school students. I've taught 6th, next year 7th, and 8th. Many middle school and high school teachers have criticized WBT, and think their students will think it is too "babyish". We teach reading in Kindergarden, and also in 8th grade. Students don't think reading is "babysish" because the way it is taught in Kinder is different than the way it is taught in 8th. The same goes for the rules (and all other WBT techniques). WBT is a giant set of tools for our teaching tool bag. It is up to the teacher to use the WBT tools in a grade level appropriate way. In a lower grade kids usually want to please the teacher, so that rule goes over easier. In an upper grade, students buy in when they know exactly what that rule means. I am happy when students are learning, so if you are disrupting that, you are breaking rule 5. Period. No loopholes. I am world's foremost expert in knowing what makes me happy, so there's no arguing. No backtalk. It's not about making me happy, it's about keepin gme happy. I'm a happy person. Keep me happy by allowing this to be a classroom of learning...and help to emphasize this by using +/- homework problems on the Scoreboard. Disrupt the learning environment = breaks rule 5 = one extra homework problem. Works like magic!

    2. You're right... it's all in the framing. Thank you for your reply

  8. Thank you for the detail! Question: do you line the students up outside everyday, or just the first day?

    1. Hi Veronica! Great question! No, I do not have them line up in the hall everyday. Only on the first day. :)

  9. Wow! This is great information for the first day of school. It is my third year using whole brain teaching but I am always looking for ways to improve and this will definitely help. Sometimes I struggle with knowing what to say to introduce the whole brain strategies and your dialogue suggestions will be very helpful. Thank you!

    1. Erin, thanks so much! I'm glad you found them helpful!!

  10. HI! Do you know if this method or technique exist in french?

  11. Hello, I'm looking for Day 2: the Scoreboard (from July 2014) I read Day 1 (first day of school) was looking for the follow up.
    D melendez

  12. I'm so glad to have discovered your blog today. Reading your posts will help guide me through my first year of WBT. Thank you!!
    Stephanie Keen

  13. I am looking for Day 2 as well - thanks so much for your posts!