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10 Ways to Encourage Learning on the First Day of School

As students head back to school and into the classroom, teachers are faced with the all-important task of engaging them in the learning process. A little creativity goes a long way when it comes to building students’ character, helping them develop goals, encouraging perseverance, and cultivating their sense of curiosity.

To start the school year on a positive note, Milton Hershey School teachers from various grade levels shared some of their favorite ways to inspire students on the first day of school.


“I give students a problem to solve right off the bat, and I challenge them to find as many ways to solve it as possible. It’s an icebreaker kind of challenge that gives me a chance to talk to them about how all different types of thinking in the classroom are valuable.”– Brianne Major, MHS high school math teacher

“We complete group challenges. Students work together to creatively come up with a way to build a tower using the materials provided without actually touching the cups.”— Amy Duncan, MHS fourth-grade teacher

Milton Hershey School students building a tower with cups

Technology Activities

“To build community and creatively infuse technology into the classroom, my favorite activities are collaborating on expectations in Google Slides. You can easily create a presentation and share it with your entire class. Break your students into pairs or small groups, then assign them a specific slide. Have students create their top 10 list of classroom expectations using text, pictures, and videos to explain their assigned expectation.”— Matt Bergman, MHS Learning Technology Training Specialist

“We make emoji representations of ourselves and try to guess who’s who. Then, we’ll share the emojis to introduce ourselves!”— Christine Halliday, MHS fourth-grade teacher

MHS student playing with block

Sharing Their Story

“Students roll foam dice and then share that number of facts about themselves with their classmates.”— Denise Witmer, MHS second-grade teacher

“I allow my students to bring in a small stuffed animal on the first day to help calm their nerves and have something familiar to keep with them on their desk. All the students then share their stuffed animals with the rest of the class.”— Manal Alnor, MHS first-grade teacher

student with a dog stuffed animal

Student Empowerment

“I ended the year with student reflections on what they thought was the most important thing they learned, what they would keep the same, and what they would change. I’m in the process of creating a video out of those reflections, so I can start the school year with that recap. After watching it, students will write down a goal or challenge for the year. Their first challenge will be to find a way to “shoot for the moon” and get their goals on the ceiling. I think starting the year off with students sharing their ideas is so important. It creates a culture of student voice and empowerment right from the start.” – Joel Crowley, MHS Technology Innovation Lab Instructor for the elementary school

“We read character-building books every day the first week with an activity to help model and practice the characteristics we value here at MHS.”–  Danielle Peirson, MHS fourth-grade teacher 

teacher with her students posing for a group photo

Peer Collaboration

“We do a classroom scavenger hunt where the kids get to explore the classroom and learn where everything is in a fun way. We do celebrity interviews where they interview each other and share their partner’s answers. And we also do some goal setting for the year!”– Megan Lazicki, MHS second-grade teacher

“For an ice breaker activity on the first day, I have students come up with five things they have in common with their group members. Then they have to use those similarities to come up with a team name, team motto, and team symbol to represent their commonalities as a group. I also ask the students to write down their ideas about what makes up a terrific teacher and classmate. We will refer to that throughout the year.”— Kendra Dykes, MHS third-grade teacher

student reading a poem

Milton Hershey School does not discriminate in admissions or other programs and services on the basis of race, color, national or ethnic origin, ancestry, sex, religious creed or disability. Read important MHS policies on equal opportunity and diversity, equal employment opportunity, and more.