6 Engaging Activities for the New Year

Even if you’re not setting formal resolutions, the beginning of a new year is a natural time to finally pause, reset, reflect, and restart the year fresh. If your first semester was a struggle (like mine), it’s a chance to be your best teacher self for the kiddos in your room. Maybe that means restoring balance and making time for self-care, bringing more energy and creativity to your teaching, reconnecting with students and building even stronger relationships, revisiting expectations and tweaking procedures, the list goes on. It’s a chance to be better. It’s a fresh start, a blank slate, an opportunity…almost like the first day of school back in the fall, but much less intimidating, because you’ve done this before. You’re ready to start 2020 strong, better than you were before.

I love starting the new year with a renewed sense of purpose. I embrace the chance to reflect on my teaching practices and restart the academic year with more intention. I know many fellow teachers do the same, whether it’s through reading a book for professional development, trying out new strategies, setting resolutions or goals, or sitting down to plan fresh, engaging lessons.

If we are taking the time to reflect on our purpose and take action to better ourselves as teachers, shouldn’t our students be doing the same? Sure, some of them may create their own resolutions, but let’s face it: The vast majority of our students are not actively contemplating their identity, purpose, goals, or future. They’re busy trudging through the daily turmoil of adolescence and trying to enjoy it along the way. If we want them to be more intentional and aware, we need to facilitate it. If we want them to feel more comfortable and safe in our classrooms, we need to cultivate that kind of supportive environment. If we want them to respect us and value the learning process, we need to create those relationships.

Whether your goal is instilling self-awareness in your students, increasing engagement, building relationships, or refreshing your classroom culture, here are 6 tried-and-true activities for the new year so you can start 2019 fresh!

1. New Year’s Resolutions and Growth Mindset Learning Stations

What better way to start the New Year and set the tone for 2020 than LEARNING STATIONS? I love starting fresh with these stations that facilitate reflection, goal-setting, growth mindset, collaboration, and creativity. It’s the perfect back-to-school lesson because it keeps students engaged and allows you to circulate around the room, check in with students, learn about their goals, and help them develop plans to achieve them. The conversations I have with students during this activity always manage to give me a new sense of hope for the year ahead.

If you have brand-new classes or a few new students (like me) at the semester, then this is a great way to build on existing relationships and/or begin to get to know your new students. I love facilitating these stations with students and modeling my goal-setting and growth mindset as a human being and teacher.

This activity comes with 5 different student-centered learning stations: personal resolutions, academic resolutions, a creative activity, growth mindset reflection, and non-fiction article discussion. If you like the idea of stations, but want more information, check out my series of blog posts: 10 Reasons to Implement Learning Stations, How to Create Learning Stations, and How to Facilitate Learning Stations.

2. “Investigate the Teacher Activity”

If you have a brand new class or group of students, this kinesthetic activity is perfect to set the tone for an engaging, student-centered year of learning! I have one brand new class this semester so I’ll be using this activity with second-semester seniors in my new Technical Communication course. Before I created this activity, I used to bore my students with a “Get to Know Miss G” slideshow, but then I realized that I was doing all of the work! So this activity flips the hard work onto the students: Instead of telling them all about myself, I make them get to know me by investigating my room for clues about my personality, teaching style, expectations, hobbies, etc. I love how this activity gets my students moving, collaborating, and critically thinking on day one. It’s a great way to break the ice, build relationships, AND introduce essential skills like observing evidence, making inferences, discussing interpretations, and summarizing conclusions. In other words, it accomplishes my #1 goal as a teacher: Tricking my students into learning. 🙂

If you want more information on this activity and why I refuse to go over the syllabus on the first day of school, check out this blog post with tons of ideas.

3. Personality Test + Reflection

I like to do this with my English students, because my classes don’t change much at the semester, but there are always a few new faces in each class. I want to get to know those students, and this personality test reflection that pairs with the 16 Personalities online test is perfect for that. It’s also a great way to get to know the students I’ve had on a deeper level.

This reflective activity will challenge students to be introspective as they think about their strengths and weaknesses, ability to work with others, approach to school/work, and more! In addition, the online test provides great practice at reading, summarizing, evaluation, and reflecting upon information. I love doing this activity at the start of a new year, because it helps students think about who they are and how they can have their best year yet!

4. Partner Interview Challenge

If your students are anything like mine, they perk up the second they hear the word “challenge,” which tends to invite shouts of “OH YEAH!” and “IT’S ON.” The “Partner Interview Challenge” is a fun activity that challenges students to get to know one of their peers by asking the right questions that will generate the details needed to write an engaging mini-story about their partner. I originally designed it for my journalism classes, but then I realized it makes for a fun get-to-know-you activity and writing sample for all of my ELA students. The “challenge” requires students to reflect upon a memorable moment and briefly share that moment with a partner. The partner then must create a list of effective questions and conduct an interview to harvest all of the information needed for a story. The better the questions, the better the answers, and the better the stories. Students will quickly realize that taking the time to craft precise, meaningful questions will be well worth it in the end. But the best part of this writing activity is reading through all of your students’ stories. I promise you that you’ll learn so much about your students and what has shaped their lives.

5. Get-to-Know-You Speed Dating

Speed dating is a unique and engaging twist on the typical get-to-know-you icebreaker activities. In the past, I’ve played the game where you toss a ball with different questions on it, and each student answers the question their right thumbs lands on. It was fun, but one student was speaking while 24 others listened. It didn’t feel like the best use of my time, so I created a get-to-know-you speed dating version of this classic icebreaker so that I could engage every single student at the same time (a rare accomplishment in secondary ELA).

To do this activity, you’ll need various discussion prompts printed out (one per pair of students). Each round of speed dating, students will discuss a different prompt with a different peer, rotating after each date. The best part about this activity is that it gets students talking to each other in a low-risk setting. If your goal is to build classroom community from the start, or even restore it after a tough first semester, then you’ll love speed dating!

6. “Mirror of Me” Creative Activity

This activity pairs well with the personality test and reflection but it also works as a standalone activity that forces students to get a little introspective as they begin the new year. The “Mirror of Me” activity will get your students thinking creatively and symbolically about their identity as human beings. Students will contemplate the essential questions of “Who am I?” and “Who do I want to be?” This makes it the perfect mini-project to get to know your students on a deeper level.

In this mini-project, students will brainstorm the symbols and words that define them and then create a visual representation of themselves that they can share with their peers and you. The creative finished projects can also double as decor to celebrate the fresh start of the new year!

I hope these activities for the new year help you AND your students start 2020 strong. May this be your best year yet!


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