Tag Archives: back to school

Back to School Stranger Things Themed Syllabus & Opening Day Activities

It’s a syllabus.

It is a hyperdoc.

It’s a menu of opening day activities for students.

Actually, it is all three rolled into one.

I saw a class syllabus from @MrsGearheart laid out like a game board with station activities for each part of the syllabus. Students read and complete the syllabus to earn badges. I loved the format but was thinking how to personalize it for my middle school students. And wallah, here is the syllabus, hyperdoc, and first days of school menu choice board for students to complete. The syllabus covers about the teacher, class expectations, each of the units we will complete throughout the year, information about standards based grading, and classroom policies.

Rather than the badges, that @MrsGearheart created – and there are a lot. I have paired down a menu of activities for students to complete the first two days of classes. For the appetizers, students choose one to complete and share about themselves with the whole class. Thinking in different formats, students can either create an infographic about themselves using Adobe Express or can conduct an interview with a peer on Flip(grid). The main course is an assignment that all students will do the end of the week. It will not be a graded assignment but will help me learn about students’ reading and writing skills, likes, and literary influences. I will share that assessment in next week’s blog post. For dessert, these are short activities to help students get comfortable with the tech platforms I use weekly and also tell me more about themselves. I am a dessert person so I thought, why not complete all these activities. I think students will be able to do the appetizers and desserts over two 40 minute class periods. If you would like a copy of this template, you can click here.

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Back to School Escape Room

180 Days and Counting . . . No, I am not counting but my students might be and I know I have many students who are NOT looking forward to coming back to school.

Why does the first day of school have to be typical with interest inventories and going over the class objectives and requirements? Bring some fun into the classroom with an escape room activity. Similar to a Breakout EDU, an immersive physical and digital game platform, an escape room contains both physical and digital puzzles for students to solve and “unlock.” An escape room requires teamwork, creative and critical thinking.

Using both physical locks and digital puzzles, students participate in an escape room the first day of class to showcase their knowledge of English Language Arts. I used quiz validation on a Google Form for students to curate their escape room clues and answers. Students work in teams to solve six different puzzles. First, the class is divided in three teams, each team will receive one of the puzzles that will lead to another puzzle or lock box. I am using both digital and physical locks for more options and engagement.


  1. Using a pigpen cipher students decode different young adult book titles. I have placed these actual young adult books on display in my classroom. Inside one of these books a page is marked, the page number will unlock a small lock box that contain two additional puzzles.
  2. A blank plot pyramid is part of the next clue. Along with the blank pyramid, students will receive a bank with mixed up definitions of plot points: Conflict, Exposition, Falling Action, Resolution, and Rising Action. Students have to select the correct plot points in order to unlock this digital lock.
  3.  Using QR Codes, students view four different movie trailers and identify the types of conflict presented in each movie trailer.
  4. Comma or No Comma is a bank of sentences that students will have to decide which uses the commas correctly. Each box has a letter and the correct sentences spell a word that will unlock this digital lock.
  5. “The Mixed Up Files of Dr. Haiken” includes questions about the teacher for students to decode. From symbols (like the secret code below) to mixed up letters or numbers, students decode the answers. original-3078941-2
  6. Jigsaw Planet has free online puzzles for students to solve. On this site you can also create, play, share jigsaw puzzles and compete with other users. I have uploaded a picture for students to solve and answer a question about the image in the puzzle.


Escape Rooms can be fun and exciting for students and intimidating for teachers to create. Looking online, there are many examples and samples to model your own escape room activities. Mix easy and challenging puzzles to keep all students engaged. Map out the order of the puzzles students will complete and go through a dress rehearsal before the students give it a try to work out any kinks. Then, let the students escape. To build interest and engagement think of a storyline and start with a trailer to build excitement. And don’t forget to include fun in all aspects of the escape.



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Back to School: Boot Camp

Let’s get back into the school mode. Off that beach chair, it is time to hit the desk. Better finish that summer reading requirement soon. Get your school supplies together and start packing your backpack.

In some states students and teachers are heading back to school in the following weeks. In the state that I live in students will return to school on September 1st and a few others will be returning after Labor Day. What can teachers do differently to kick off a positive school year? Below are some suggestions for activities that I plan to do the first few days of school to get to know my students and get students energized for the new school year. I do not focus on content or classroom rules the first week of school. My objective is to build community and engage in a few team-building activities that engage students.

1. Executive Marbles & Command Performances – Many teachers engage in the classroom scavenger hunt which is always fun but also very common. I found this one scavenger hunt at a leadership conference I took my students to many years ago and have adapted it to use with my students. It is not the “find someone who was born in the same month as you” scavenger hunt. Rather, every students has a number and students have to compete a specific task with another student. Every one of the scavenger hunt question is a preview or pre-assessment what we will cover in class over the course of the semester. For example, “Do a high five with student #5 and tell this person the career you thought you wanted to have when you were six years old” and “On the back of this handout, have students #12 list the top 5 careers s/he would absolutely not do, under any circumstances.”

2. Product in a Box – In October of 2004 I brought a group of female students to attend a conference about economic empowerment for girls sponsored by Independent Means. All the participants were put in small groups of fifteen and were given a box filled with random recycled materials. The girls had fifteen minutes to create a product out of the materials in the box and also complete a business plan about the product they created. This is a great team building activity and it inspires creatively and positive energy the first day of class. Students then present their product and business plan to the whole class. To order your own product in a box you can visit www.independentmeans.com


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