The other day on Twitter I ran across a statement: “Any teacher who spends the first day on class rules really wants one more day of summer.” Well, it said something like that—I can’t find it now. Even though I agree with the sentiment, I have been guilty of doing just that, for years.
For the past few years, I’ve tried to go a different direction. My goal is to set a tone of inquiry, creativity, and community. I want my students to NOT watch the clock for the 48 minutes I have them. I want them to leave my class thinking, “This is going to be a hard but fun class.” That’s my challenge.
The South Coast Writing Project starts its Summer Institute for teachers with an activity called Hopes, Fears, and Expectations. It works well as well with seventh graders as it does with adults. In fact, I am certain this activity would work well as a community building exercise for any new group, whatever the age of the participants.
There are many ways to teach this lesson. Here’s the way I’ve been doing it with grade 7 English for the past few years. And, yes, this is the very first thing I do on the very first day of school. It just about takes up the whole class period, leaving enough time for me to take attendance and hear everyone’s names.
Hopes Fears and Expectations
Originally from the South Coast Writing Project
Step One: Write Hopes, Fears, and Expectations
- First, welcome students to the new school year. Mention that grade 7 is a big change and that change can sometimes carry a lot of nervous feelings. This activity is meant to make some of that anxiety go away.
- Pass out 3 x 5 index cards to students. Teacher’s Note: This is a great opportunity to teach students your procedure for passing out papers. The first week is all about teaching routines and you can embed the instruction in the lesson.
- Instruct students not to write their names. This is anonymous.
- Next, thinking about the beginning of the year, students complete the following three sentences stems: I hope… I fear… I expect…
- At this point, I usually remind them one more time that they should not write their names (someone always does by mistake).
- I model what to write with my own hopes, fears, and expectations as the teacher. I want to show them from day one that I am part of our reading-writing community.
- Give students ample time to write. Some students take a surprisingly long time to complete this. Ask them to turn their cards over when they are finished.
Step Two: Shuffle the Deck and Pass Out Cards
- After most students are done (probably about 5 minutes), ask everyone to turn their cards face down. You may have to reassure those who aren’t quite done: “Don’t worry. If you only have the first two, that’s enough. This is not for a grade.” Seventh graders are nervous on the first day!
- Students pass in the cards. Note: This is a great time to practice the procedure for turning in papers. It’s always great when you can get two things done at once.
- Make a show of shuffling the deck. You can ask a student to do it or to at least cut the cards.
- Before passing the cards back out, I find it helps to say, “If you accidentally get your own card back, either hand it right back to me or simply pretend like it is someone else’s. No one will know.” Yes, this point seems obvious, but, again, nerves are high on the first day of seventh grade.
Step Three: Pick One to Read Aloud
- Students read their new cards.
- They choose one sentence they wouldn’t mind reading to the class. This might be funny, interesting, confusing, or simply one they relate to.
- I have students star the item, so when I am walking around the room, I can see who is finished, and so students will be ready to go when it is time to read.
Step Four: Lightning Round
- A lightning round is when one student reads—perhaps starting with a volunteer—and then the next student reads without being prompted and so on until every student has participated.
- The rules of a lightning round are to read in a “public voice,” so everyone can hear and to remain silent when it is not your turn. Also, be ready to go when it is your turn.
- Sometimes the lightning round takes a bit of practice in the beginning, but it is worth it because I use the routine in my class often. You won’t believe the amount of time you save when students don’t have to be prompted to read.
- IMPORTANT: Ask students to listen for common ideas. Later, they will have to report what they learned.
Step Five: Write Back
- Next, students write “encouraging responses” for the original writers. It’s best to write at the bottom of the cards, but they can also write on the back. This is because I staple the hopes and fears to the bulletin board and it is nice for the encouraging responses to be facing out.
- I added the “encouraging response” part after working with the Hopes, Fears…activity for a few years. I want to set a tone of kindness and cooperation in my classroom community. I think asking students to write a note of encouragement back is an authentic way to do this.
Step Six: Reflect and Relate
- Reflecting and Relating is one of the cognitive strategies we will be studying this year as part of our work with the National Writing Project’s Pathway Project. For more on cognitive strategies, download Carol Booth Olson and Robert Land’s article here.
- Have students form groups of 3 or 4. Pass out a strip of colored paper.
- Ask students to re-read their starred sentences and encouraging responses.
- Together, students try to form a “big idea” or message from the activity. They may use one or more of the following sentence stems to help them get started:
- So, the idea we’re getting is…
- A conclusion we’re drawing is…
- This is relevant to our lives because…
- If there is time, ask one member of each group to read the big idea or message. If not, ask group members to write their names on the colored strip of paper.
- Collect the cards and the big ideas. Post them in an easily visible part of the room. I usually leave the cards up until at least Back to School Night. It is nice for students and visitors to see what it is like to be a new seventh grader.
Optional Step Six: Re-read at the End of the Year
If you remember, it is fun to take out the index cards at the end of the year to allow students to reflect on how they’ve changed. Fears from the beginning of the year will look small and manageable to the now soon-to-be eighth graders. As a way to tie the activity together, ask students to “Reflect and Relate” one more time. One of the best things about teaching seventh grade is we see so much growth in one year. This activity brings that fact home to students.