5 Tips for Back to School in a Middle School History Classroom

Image of pencils that says, "5 Tips for Back to School in a Middle School History Class." We will talk about back to school activities.

Back to school is just around the corner, and if you’re like me, then you probably feel a mix of emotions – excitement, nervousness, and not quite ready for that 5 am alarm. The first couple days can be a little awkward with students, so I planned several back to school activities to help us get to know each other and open up.

Here are five tips for back to school for your middle school history class:

Set Up Your Routines

When it comes to the first week of school, there are two things every teacher knows is important: relationships and procedures. Without them, our year is destined to be a flop. However, you can work on building relationships and procedures from day one in your classroom. Here are a few back to school activities I use to do that –

First, I introduce myself to students with a short and sweet presentation. I use this Back to School Presentation Template from Too Cool for Middle School. It’s really cute! Each year, I go back through my presentation and update it – and then it’s good to go!

Of course, then I like to get to know my students. I typically use this resource in a small group or station. It gives me the chance to show what group work looks like. We talk about the expectations, model what it looks like, and then I hand them a History of Me page. This resource is in print and digital.

Next, I set expectations for a Gallery Walk (something we do frequently in my class) with 2 Historical Truths and 1 Bogus Lie from History with Mr E. Not only does this help us practice gallery walks, but my students open up with this resource. They start chatting (breaking their awkward first week quietness), and I have the chance to go around and engage with them.

Lastly, I use several resources from this Social Studies First Day of School Activities by Surviving Social Studies. There are a lot of fun and interactive activities in that bundle, but more importantly – my students are still practicing routines with these activities. We practice what working looks like, getting supplies, turning in work, and more. Plus, I get a good sense of who can work together…and who can’t. 

Random Seat Assignments

Image shows popsicle sticks with names on it, perfect for random seat assignments. This is a fun back to school activity.

To assign seats…or not to assign seats. When planning your back to school activities, I’m sure seating came to mind. I kick off the first week of school with random seat assignments. Here’s how it works. 

I stand outside the classroom with popsicle sticks. Each popsicle stick has a name on it. As students walk in the door, I give them one of the popsicle sticks. Then, they have to match the first name on their popsicle stick to the last name written on their desk. Once they find it, that’s their seat for the day. As a warm-up, they fill out a reflection question about the person they received. You can grab my reflection sheet HERE for free.

By having students switch chairs each day for the first week, I figure out who they can and can’t sit next to or if certain seats help the focus more.

Points System

Image shows several class periods labeled on buckets and gold coins.

No matter what grade you teach, every grade level loves the point system! There are many ways to use a point system in the classroom, but I knew whichever I chose – it had to be something I was able to keep up with. 

I settled on this class point system. As one of our back to school activities, we talk about the actions that will earn the class points, or in my class, “ancient coins” (aka those plastic gold coins you get at the store)! Things like working hard in class, being quiet during a fire drill, or everyone showing up prepared to work earns them points. They can also lose points if the entire class is off-task or acting out (after several warnings and redirects). 

Then, the winning class at the end of the month spins the prize wheel. I use this digital prize wheel to make things easy. Middle schoolers love candy, so I usually keep some sweet prizes around for the winning class. Of course, you can add other prizes to the wheel as well!

Why Should We Study History? 

I like to wrap up my back to school activities with a Why Should We Study History assignment. I use this resource every year, and it’s the perfect way to answer those, “But why do I have to know this?” questions. 

This resource not only gives students a why for the concepts they are learning, but it’s also an overview of History vs. Historiography – something many of our students haven’t heard of before. Overall, this back to school activity never lets me down. We are able to make some connections between history and modern times, the why of history, and set the stage for exciting things to come.

This Day in History Bellringers

As the first week of school comes to a close, I transition my students to using these Day in History Bellringers. The reason I slowly transition them into these bellringers is because I want to set the expectation that this assignment is a must and exactly what it should look like to do it well.

These bell ringers not only serve as a great assignment, but it creates time for me to take attendance, check in with students, and answer emails. Bell ringers also set the tone for students in class. They know that we come in quietly and get to work. It’s the same every day (and we know how much students thrive on structure).

Want a free month of This Day in History Bellringers? You will get the entire month of August free, so you can kick off your school year right.

5 Tips for Back to School in a Middle School History Classroom


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