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5 Ways to Start Your Day in Upper Elementary

Get your class ready for the day with these 5 ways to start your day in upper elementary!

Ways to Start Your Day in Upper Elementary

It’s morning, the sun is out, and we are all ready to get this school day started!

I wish.

In reality, it is in the upper elementary grades that we start to see students showing more signs of being tired in the morning. I’m guessing it has to do with all that growing they’re doing. I swear some of the kids grow by inches seemingly overnight.

Nevertheless, they are often dragging a bit when they come to class, and despite our best intentions, I am also often slow to get going in the morning. 

This is exactly why it is important to put a lot of effort and thought into making sure that the activities and tasks that we do with our students first thing in the morning are mentally and/or physically challenging. I truly believe that the way we start the day will set the pace for everything to come after, and if I don’t get the students moving and grooving right away, it will take even longer to get them going later.

Today, I’m going to take you through 6 ways to start your day in upper elementary classes, but although many of these ideas will work with lots of different students, ultimately, you’ll need to decide what your kids need most. So let’s start by considering our current students.

Things to consider before making a plan

A couple of thoughts before we get into our list of ways to start your day in upper elementary. 

First, consider your specific students and their schedules. 

Do many of your students ride the bus? If so, how far are they riding? How early did they wake up to catch that bus? 

Commute time can be a huge factor in inner-city and very rural school districts, and it is good to know how long that commute is and what the students often do on that commute. So, you may want to take a little survey near the beginning of the year to find out what the time before school starts looks like for your students. If they are spending a lot of time sitting, then they may want something a little more active at the beginning of the day. Likewise, if they are spending all that time on their phones or playing a video games, you may want to steer clear of screens in that first hour of the day.

Second, what lights your student up? 

Again, this is where a good survey near the beginning of the school year can make a huge difference. Do kids like competition? Do they like crafts? Do they like physical activity? 

If you have a whole class full of kids who like to be moving, then find a way to get some movement into the beginning of your day (see #4 below!). If you have students who like competition, consider what ways you could adjust your activities to allow for some competition. You may not be able to play to your students’ interests every day, but you at least will know what you need to add to the mix!

Third, start the day on a good note. 

This may go without saying, but starting your day with a test or quiz is not a great way to help students feel confident at the beginning of the day. For the students who have all their stuff together, they will like this method, but for the students who don’t, a quiz or test first thing can just be a way of making them feel even more inadequate than they already feel.

Lastly, consistency is key, but change keeps kids on their toes. 

Students need classroom environments to feel safe, so there is definitely something to be said for creating good systems and practices that help students know what is coming; however, we don’t want to be so consistent that we become dull. Occasionally, consider trying a new activity to start your school day, but make sure that the stakes are low and if it doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to let it go!

If you have really considered your students and their needs, then it’s time to start thinking about what types of activities will be best for your students!

5 Ways to Start Your Day in Upper Elementary

#1 | Journaling

This first suggestion is an oldie but a goodie.

Give students time to write down their thoughts to start the day. This can also be a good time for students to communicate how their morning was or give you indicators of how they’re doing.

One thing I’ve seen teachers do that I think is super clever is giving students codes to use in their journals to secretly or inconspicuously communicate with the teacher about their day. 

Codes can look like different colors of writing instruments, stickers, drawn emojis, or even numbers. 

For example, the color of pen or pencil the student chooses to write with may be used to tell the teacher something. For example, they use pencil when their day is going as expected, but they use blue when they are having a particularly good day or red pen when they are having a particularly bad day. 

Students could also use emoji faces in the corners of their journals to express their emotions, or maybe a student puts a number in the corner of their sheet that rates their day on a scale of 1-5. If they put a 1, then you know they want to talk to you about something or that their morning has been rough. If they put a 5, then you know they have good news they want to share with you.

The teacher can then walk the room and glance at the student’s journals to take a quick assessment of the students’ moods and emotional well-being. 

Journaling when done well with the right tools, writing prompts, or codes can be a very effective way to start the day!

#2 | Collaborative Games

Collaborative games can also be a great way to start the day.

Using theater-style games like the ones in this post from Drama Toolkit, allows for some consistency and often some laughs at the start of a new day. These are great for boosting moods and getting students up and out of their chairs.

Don’t feel like you have to change the game every day to keep things interesting, you can stick with the same game for a full week and just change little pieces of it to keep the kiddos intrigued. If the game includes counting, then maybe by Friday, you change it up and count by 2s or 10s instead of by ones, or if the game includes saying silly words, maybe later in the week you vote on new words to use instead. Changing even one little element can keep these collaborative games interesting and engaging for a long time. 

#3 | Math Warm-ups

I love having consistent educational activities to start the day. Something students know to grab when they walk in the room, or something that can be handed out after we finish up a quick game. That is why these Math Warm-ups are some of my favorites.

The Math Warm-ups spiral our standards but are designed in a way that is not intimidating. 4-5 tasks all laid out on a half sheet of paper. This is something that feels doable, and I can change up whether students work alone or in pairs. 

These Math Warm-ups can also be projected on the board for a full class review!

#4 | Celebrate with the Holiday of the Day

Did you know that there is an (often nonconsequential) holiday on almost every day of the year? You know, the holidays like ‘Eat Ice Cream Day.’ These holidays can be a lot of fun to learn about, and they are a great way to start the day because they are always different, yet the activity is always the same.

Holiday of the Day Writing Prompts

I particularly love that students can respond individually to the prompts or they can complete the activity together during a morning meeting. The flexibility of the Holiday of the Day prompts allows them to work on their own as a way to start the day or as a solid add-on to one of the other ideas on this list (like the journaling).

To learn more about the Holiday of the Day resource, you can check out this blog post for an inside look.

#4 | Dance Move of the Day

Although the idea of a Dance Move of the Day may seem a little intimidating, it can actually be quite fun and very addicting. 

There are a lot of ways to administer this activity, but the whole concept is built off putting together a class dance by the end of the year. 

As a class, you pick a song to work with, and then each day or each week, you’ll add a series of dance moves to the dance. Throughout the week, you’ll start the day with a run-through of what you currently have. If the idea of dancing in front of your students scares you, don’t worry!  If you’re not a great dancer, or you don’t feel confident coming up with moves, usually there are a couple of students who are willing to take on the task of coming up with moves or encouraging others to come up with moves and then teaching them. Your job is to offer ongoing encouragement, drop little compliments to students as they improve, and organize the time for them to really ‘play’ with this concept.

You can also encourage other teachers and classes to get involved and perform your class dances at a talent show at the end of the year or as part of a PTA fundraiser to raise money for a field trip or some other item for your school. Be creative and open-minded with this idea!

#5 | Drawing Videos

This is something that took off in quarantine, and I definitely see a good use for it in schools. 

There are a bunch of drawing videos online that teach kids how to draw popular items and characters, and the videos are often geared toward kids, less than 10 minutes long, and make even the less creative kids seem like artistic masterminds. 

I personally like the videos created by Art for Kids Hub because they put out new videos often and many times you can find something that is seasonally appropriate to use. If you haven’t seen their videos, I strongly recommend checking them out. 

As students get used to the style of the videos and how the teachers break down the drawings, you could encourage your top artists to lead the same kind of lesson in person using the whiteboard. I always like to look for opportunities for students to share their talents with others in the class, and just like the Dance Move a Day lets the dancers in the class have their moment, this may appeal more to your artists!

Another suggestion is to do the drawing videos along with the Holiday of the Day prompts. Since the Art for Kids Hub has so many options to choose from, you may be able to find a drawing that directly aligns with the topic of today’s holiday!

Ways to Start Your Day in Upper Elementary

Despite our best efforts, many of us are not always at our best first thing in the morning, and many of our students fall into that same boat, so making sure the activities and tasks that we orchestrate to start our school days is an important task that we can’t take lightly. 

We hope that the ideas and considerations in this blog post help to get your creative wheels turning and your teacher’s brain humming with all the possibilities of different ways to start your day in upper elementary classes. We’d love to know what you do, so if you have any other great ways to start the day, drop us an email or let us know in the comments!

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