Four First Day Activities for Middle School ELA

Ahhhh, the first day of school.  No matter how long you teach, it seems that there can still be anxiety of what to do on that day.  We want to share four first day activities for middle school ELA that you will love! We’ll cover what students should do when they enter your room, the rules that we have found work all year, exciting icebreakers that you can use, and even a lesson to begin on that very first day.

First Day Activities for Middle School ELA  ~ Students Entering the Classroom

To begin with, we make sure we’re standing at the door so that we can greet students as they enter.  This is one of the important first day activities for middle school ELA to ensure success.  As students enter, we tell them to look on the screen in the front of the classroom.  On the screen, we have  directions telling students what to do.  First on the list is how to find their seats.  We have their names on their desks and use alphabetical order until can can learn names.  We are firm believers in having a seating chart for the first day. It actually makes your students feel more comfortable because they don’t have to worry about things like who am I going to sit next to or who’s in this class. We’re from the generation of Harry Wong, The First Days of School. If you’ve never looked at that book, you might want to check it out on Amazon. He believes in seating charts. We start that from day one.  Also on the list displayed on the screen, we tell them to begin working on the bell ringer that we already have on their desks.  The last direction displayed is for students to remain silent as they work.  We make sure we have pencils provided.

First Day Activities for Middle School ELA  ~ Bell Ringers

A Bell ringer on day one is an important first day activity for middle school ELA.  We start with “paper and pencil” copies because we don’t know things such as who has a device or who’s new to the school.  The screen instructs them to start the work on their desk. That work is the very first bell ringer. In the past, we used longer, more traditional student surveys when students first entered, and we ran out of time.  We break that long survey down into small pieces, and they make up several days of bell ringers. By providing an interest inventory in small bites in bell ringer fashion, we can get to know our students while they’re learning the routines of our classroom at the same time.  Our back to school bell ringers have one “fun” would you rather question. For example, the bellringer asks students if they would rather be invisible or to have the power to read people’s minds.  This “fun” question helps create the climate from day one; your kids will enjoy it. We even ask for a few volunteers to tell us why they made their selection. It both relaxes the atmosphere, and it really gets them in the practice of coming in and immediately focusing on the bell ringer.  Plus, students are tired of back to school surveys.  They usually do them in every class on that first day.  By breaking up this activity into bell ringers, students aren’t presented with the monotonous in your room.

Click here to download these first week bell ringers!

First Day Activities for Middle School ELA  ~ Rules

Our second tip for first day activities for middle school ELA is to go over the rules and procedures. Once the bell ringer is complete, and we’ve spent a little bit of time going over it, we go over our rules for the year. We have been teaching for a while, and we can remember years where we had a list of ten rules.  It was just too many. We’ve narrowed our rules to four; they are the ones we use every single year. And in fact, everyone on our team at school has adopted these rules because they really just cover everything.  It’s best to keep them simple. And so our classroom rules are the following:

  • Respect others.
  • Be on task at all times.
  • Don’t talk during instruction time or during announcements.
  • Stay seated during instruction time.

And that’s it. We do spend a little bit of time elaborating on each one of those; especially number one – respect others.  We have a discussion about what it looks like to respect the teacher, what it looks like to respect our classmates, even what it looks like to respect ourselves.

Click here to download a list of these rules.

First Day Activities for Middle School ELA  ~ Procedures

Procedures are different from rules. Every teacher has a way that he/she wants things done in his/her classroom. For example, every teacher wants papers passed in a certain way.  So you want to spend a little bit of time going over some of the major procedures in your classroom. You don’t have to do all of them on the first da.  The main thing is to know that going over procedures is one of the important first day activities for middle school ELA.


One procedure we go over in our first day activities for middle school ELA is our stations. These stations are just a set of drawers. Sterilite makes the ones we use. In each drawer, we have things that students may need during a class period. Since these items are there at their fingertips, students don’t have to get up. If they don’t have a pencil that day, they don’t have to involve us in that.  Our students simply open the pencil drawer, and they get a pencil out. This is the same for tissue, hand sanitizer, highlighters, and anything they need daily. If you’re reading a novel, the novels are in the station. So the students have everything they need at their desk. And there’s no need to ask where something is; they know since you go through this procedure from the beginning.  We cannot tell you how much this helps with classroom management. When kids are getting out of their seats, especially middle school kids, they’re not simply going to the pencil sharpener.  They’re going to also hit someone on the head or neck. It’s just the nature of who they are. But this eliminates them having to get up so much.  Stations eliminate a lot of problems.


It is important to decide how you will handle students needing to go to the bathroom.  One thing that we started doing in our school last year is when a student goes to the bathroom, their phone stays in the classroom. It can be placed in a basket, a pocket chart, or it can just be placed facedown on the teacher’s desk. Another thing we have found that works is using bathroom passes.  We give each student four passes for a nine weeks. We use a Google Form for that because the Google Form is a record. It has a timestamp, and you can print that  spreadsheet  if you need to have any documentation for administration. The bathroom is just a situation, and you have to come up with a procedure that works for you. Be sure to consider school requirements when deciding on your bathroom procedure as one of your first day activities for middle school ELA.


First day activities for middle school ELA need to include a little bit of fun. And so we’re going to share with you two icebreakers that you can use on that first day back. You probably won’t have time to do both of these, but you can choose your your favorite one and do it.

Classmate Bingo

We give the students a bingo card, and they walk around the room asking their classmates questions based on the card. And when they find a classmate that matches that square, the classmate initials it.  For example, one square has them find a student who talks in their sleep. This really gets the students engaged. But again, they’re up with a purpose, and they’re up with something in their hands. So they have a task to complete. You can set a timer and give a challenge to find a certain number of initials in a certain number of squares.  We have a copy of a bingo card we use for you!

Click here to download the Bingo card for Classmate Bingo.


If you’ve never used Nearpod, you need to check it out because it is a game changer when it comes to teaching. You can sign up for a free account. We found this icebreaker on Nearpod, but you don’t necessarily have to use Nearpod to complete this icebreaker.  This is how the icebreaker goes. You tell students, “I want you to think of an object that begins with the same letter as your last name, and write that object down.”  Once they’ve done that, you put the students with a partner; the two partners have to combine those two objects to invent something new. And then you can have them draw a picture and write a description and let them just be really creative.  Finally, have them share their new invention with the class.  Kids love this!  If you’re looking for this activity on Nearpod, it’s called “1+1=!1”   Here is an example.  If the first partner’s last name, began with the letter L, they might write down the object leaf. And then the second partner whose last name started with a letter B might write down the word bouquet. So when they get together, they have the words leaf bouquet. And now they have to come up with an invention using these words. So they might say, “okay, leaf bouquet. This could be a Mother’s Day gift for elephants.”

Poetry Activity

One of our FAVORITE first day activities for middle school ELA is for students to write an I Am From poem. This stems from George Ella Lyons, original I Am From poem, and you can find that on on YouTube so you can let your students listen to that. If you Google this type of poem, you can find templates. We  have students brainstorm things about their lives and things that that they remember as a child -things from their house and yard and more.  Then, they write a poem repeating the line “I am from” throughout the poem. This activity will most likely continue into the next day or days during that first week, but it is the BEST activity to start with because students enjoy it, they are proud of what they write, and it lets you start to know who they are and where they come from.

Click here to download a brainstorming form for this poem and some sample poems. 

Click here to download a list of revision tips.  Students can use these tips to revise their poems after they’ve written a first draft.