Hey there! If you’re here, you’ve probably heard of “Investigate the Teacher,” the first-day-of-school activity I’ve been using for 6 years now! If not, you’re in for a real treat, because this is the BEST FIRST DAY ACTIVITY ever! The short & sweet explanation of it is this: Instead of clicking through a “Get to know Miss G” slideshow on the first day of school, I challenge students to “investigate” my classroom for clues about my teaching style, personality, and our class! It’s such a fun way to flip the script on Day 1 and get students engaged from the start!
You can read all about the activity HERE, learn about the virtual version HERE, and check out the resource itself HERE. If you have any questions, well that’s what this FAQ post is for. I hope it helps, and let me know if you have any other questions in the comments!
DO YOU PLANT CLUES IN YOUR CLASSROOM?
I typically don’t place any clues around my room, but it’s definitely decorated and set up in a way that reflects my personality and teaching style. If your room is not, you may want to strategically place a few pieces of “evidence” that you think represent who you are. 🙂
This year, I did end up strategically placing the book I co-wrote & recently published on my desk: Keeping the Wonder: An Educator’s Guide to Magical, Engaging, and Joyful Learning. A few curious, observant students did notice my name on the cover, which was fun!
HOW LONG DO YOU GIVE STUDENTS TO INVESTIGATE?
I give students as long as they need to investigate, which usually ends up being around 10 minutes. If they’re working hard & carefully investigating, I don’t like to stop them, so I will give extra time if students need it.
WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN STUDENTS FINISH INVESTIGATING?
Once students finish investigating, I give them time to summarize their conclusions and then complete the learning reflection at the bottom of the activity worksheet. After that, I give students a chance to share their inferences. I often ask them to share their thought process, prompting them with questions like, “How did you arrive at that conclusion?” I also take this time to “confirm” or “deny” their assumptions and share some laughs over the most off-base inferences. Finally, we wrap up our discussion by connecting the activity to what we will do in ELA class!
DOES THIS ACTIVITY WORK IN A VIRTUAL SETTING?
YES! Investigate the Teacher looks a little different in a virtual setting, but it’s still lots of fun! I actually facilitated this activity while online teaching (pre-COVID) and then in a hybrid/socially-distanced setting last year. A virtual version is included in the original resource so you can use this no matter what environment you find yourself in this year. Here’s how the digital version works: Students will investigate a virtual gallery full of artifacts that represent you…which brings us to the next question!
WHAT DO YOU INCLUDE IN YOUR VIRTUAL EXHIBITS?
If you are facilitating this activity virtually, then you will want to prepare digital “exhibits” full of artifacts that represent you. You can include photos, clipart, symbolic images, quotes, GIFs, memes, Bitmojis, etc. For more examples and ideas for your virtual Investigate the Teacher gallery, head to this helpful blog post.
WHAT GRADE LEVEL DOES THIS ACTIVITY WORK WITH?
Believe it or not, this activity will work well for grades 4th-12th. I originally designed it for use in high school, and I successfully used it with my juniors for 5 years! When I moved down to 7th grade and found that it magically worked in middle school, too. And I’ve heard from dozens of happy teachers who have used it in upper elementary, which is pleasantly surprising and incredible to me.(If you are using it in 4th-5th, you might want to modify the language a bit.) The magic of this activity is that it meets students where they are.
HOW SHOULD I WRITE MY LESSON OBJECTIVE FOR THIS ACTIVITY?
Depending on your subject and standards, you may want to emphasize different skills. Here’s an example:
Students will observe evidence in order to make inferences and synthesize their conclusions in a written reflection.
WHAT STANDARDS WILL STUDENTS PRACTICE IN THIS ACTIVITY?
Again, this activity can fit a couple standards/subjects, so this will vary. I know teachers who use this in self-contained 4th grade classes, and others who use it in high school history. If you’re a fellow ELA teacher, the “evidence” standard works well across all grades.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.7.1: Cite several pieces of textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
DOES THIS WORK FOR OTHER SUBJECTS?
Yes, absolutely! Although I originally designed it for my ELA class, I’ve since realized that it’s a flexible activity that adapts to many other subjects. In fact, I’ve heard from many happy teachers who have used Investigate the Teacher in almost every single subject, from math to social studies. Here are a few examples:
- Use it in journalism to show students the importance of being curious, observant, and inquisitive. It’s also a great way to introduce the concept of investigative journalism.
- Use it in science to introduce the scientific method. Discuss how scientists come to conclusions by observing and analyzing evidence!
- Use it in social studies to show students how to think like a historian and interpret evidence. Connect the activity to analyzing primary sources and/or responding to document-based questions!
- Use it in writing to model the research and writing process. It’s the perfect low-stakes example of CER: claim, evidence, and reasoning (or whatever other acronym you might use).
- Use it in any class to teach the difference between evidence and inferences, comprehension and analysis, etc.
WILL IT WORK WITH JUNIORS OR SENIORS, OR ARE THEY TOO OLD?
Trust me, it will work! I’ve done this with second-semester seniors AND 7th graders. For starters, “big kids” in high school love an excuse to act like a little kid again. If you frame the activity as a challenge and give them permission to open your cabinets and “snoop” on you, they will totally buy into it! Secondly, this activity is so versatile and adaptable that you can use it to meet kids where they are. The older the students, the more “advanced” analysis they’ll be able to gather from your evidence. The younger the students, the more you may need to emphasize the difference between “evidence” and “inferences.” Either way, you’ll be able to use this activity to engage students AND gauge their critical thinking skills from the start. Win-win!
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I SHARE A CLASSROOM?
If you share a classroom and don’t have much “personal space” or decor that represents you, that’s okay! You can still make this work by supplementing with the digital version, so students can observe you, your physical classroom, and your virtual gallery. In fact, this is exactly what I did last year when I shared a classroom with 2 other teachers. It worked just fine. 🙂
DO YOU KEEP ANY CABINETS OR DRAWERS LOCKED?
I usually keep the drawer with my purse/wallet closed/locked, but that’s it. My kids love opening my cabinets and glancing inside my drawers, but please set your own boundaries! You can also open a few cabinets/drawers and give students permission to look, but not touch.
WHAT IF STUDENTS ALREADY KNOW ME WELL? WILL THIS WORK?
If your students all know you well, this might not be the best use of your time! If a handful of kids know you, but not the whole class, you can challenge those who already know you to dig deeper and find new information about you. Alternatively, you can create a digital gallery with more symbolic artifacts and put students to the test to see if they can guess what each thing is supposed to represent.
IS IT EDITABLE SO I CAN ADD MY NAME AT THE TOP?
Yes, it is! You’ll see “Who is Miss G?” on the examples, but the resource features an editable text box so you can easily change it to your name. 🙂
HOW DO YOU GET TO KNOW YOUR STUDENTS AFTER THEY GET TO KNOW YOU?
After students get to know me through this activity, I spend a lot of time getting to know them! First, I make time to play some fun digital icebreakers, such as the “Spin the Wheel” question game pictured below.
I also add in some get-to-know-you activities to my back-to-school learning stations, which we do on the second day of school. In addition to the stations, I have students create an “All About Me” Google Slide, and then I compile all of our slides into a class ebook. Finally, I get to know students through a personality quiz & reflection, as well as a reading inventory.
For more information on these activities, check out the following blog posts:
Why I Don’t Review the Syllabus on the First Day of School (& What I Do Instead)
Back to School Activities for In-Person or Virtual Learning
Using Personality Tests in the Classroom
I hope this post has answered all of your questions about Investigate the Teacher! If not, leave any lingering questions in the comments, and I will do my best to reply and/or update this blog post. 🙂