Airplanes are an exciting place to be. From the buzz of takeoff to the anticipation of arriving at your (hopefully vacation) destination, everything is always smooth sailing and enjoyment the whole way.
That is… Until landing. For some reason, throughout the century of commercial airlines, we still haven’t quite perfected the landing of a plane. On my first flight, I was in awe the entire time, gazing out the window, enraptured with the thrill of the skies… Until the rough whiplash of the landing jolted me out of my reverie.
However you feel about flying, the truth is that our back to school experience is often very similar. Students (and educators!) are always abuzz with excitement as they enter our classrooms for the first time, peering around at our cute decorations with huge grins. This excitement generally remains for a few moments after the bell rings; however, once we start the educational part of the school year, students look like they’ve just been through the landing of a plane.
Long story short, despite all the excitement of back to school time, it can eventually feel a bit stale going over the same curriculum and guidelines with every new class, and students tend to check out once they realize school is officially back in session. Thankfully, with a bit of creative lesson planning, we can capture the initial excitement and keep it going throughout our back to school lessons!
By infusing creativity into lessons, you can make the return to school an exciting and stimulating experience. Here are some innovative strategies for back to school lessons that will ensure an engaging start to your academic year–and it might just keep the spark of excitement alive for the full forty weeks!
1. Engage with Hands-On Activities
Let’s be honest: the beginning of the school year is usually jam-packed. Not only are the students (and you!) getting used to the new routine and learning what works, but there are also so many guidelines and etiquette to cover. It can definitely be challenging to fit in any creative lesson planning here, but I promise you that it’s worth it!
One way to make back to school lessons more creative is with hands-on learning. Many hands-on activities can be incorporated even with limited time, but honestly, I would say make the time if you have to. Engaging students at the beginning of the year and setting the foundation for a cooperative learning environment early on is one of the most important things you can do!
By hands-on activities, I don’t mean those “sit and get” icebreakers that plague the beginning of the school year. Sure, on paper it sounds like a great way to get to know your new kiddos, but will they enjoy the process? Not always. Even as teachers, we tend to dread those icebreakers during professional development!
Instead, I opt for using team-building hands-on activities for my back to school lessons. KEVA planks and Legos are easy, fun, and work for all ages! To implement these in your classroom, ask students to build their ideal learning space using these materials for a creative lesson plan.
Who knows? Maybe you’ll get inspired enough to rearrange your whole classroom! How’s that for a fresh perspective?
2. Gamify Your Lessons to Spark Interest
Who doesn’t like games, right? My ten-year-old twins are always creating new games (and changing the rules as they go, of course), so let’s take a lesson from them: gamify your back to school lessons!
Side note: if you’re unsure about the difference between game-based learning and gamification, check out my post here!
Gamifying lessons is an excellent way to make learning exciting as well as foster a sense of friendly competition. Incorporate educational board games, online quizzes, and interactive apps into your lessons. Turning learning into a game motivates students to actively participate, enhancing their retention of key concepts. Creative lesson planning that includes gamification brings an element of fun to the back to school experience!
Kahoot!, for example, is widely used, but did you know that your students can create a collaborative Kahoot!? Have each student write a fact about themselves and make multiple choice answers with students’ names. Have the class guess together which fact belongs to which student. Prompt them to create original, unique facts about themselves.
In addition, any team-based games heighten students’ sense of cooperation. A teacher’s dream is always to have their class working in perfect harmony with one another, right? Let’s start the year off on the right foot to make that happen!
3. Connect to Real Life Experiences
One reason project-based learning is so popular in the classroom is due to relevance. Relevance is key to capturing students’ attention and fostering their engagement. When planning back to school lessons, I make it a point to find ways to connect to real-life situations. Use creative lesson planning to show students how the concepts they are learning are applicable beyond the classroom! By making these connections, you can pique their curiosity and emphasize the practical value of their education.
Although, that’s all easier said than done, right? In my experience, a lot of students struggle to make connections to real life experiences in math. It’s our job to help bring those abstract concepts down to a more tangible level. One way to do that is to use creative lesson planning!
For example, have students create a back to school shopping list. This list may include school supplies, clothes, groceries for lunches, and so on. Give them a budget and have them use different grocery store websites to find the best deals (just like in real life!). Finally, allow students to share their lists with the class. In fact, you can even divide your classroom into groups and allow each student to be in charge of a different shopping category in the group. Build those teamwork skills!
4. Integrate Technology for Creative Lesson Planning
Obviously, I use technology quite a bit, especially when planning back to school lessons. If technology is this important in my daily life, I imagine it will be just as relevant for students when they become independent adults, if not more so! That being said, I think we can all agree that it’s important to start working on students’ technology skills sooner rather than later.
Incorporating interactive websites, educational apps, virtual field trips, and multimedia presentations into your back to school lessons can enhance student engagement and promote digital literacy skills. Overall, creative lesson planning that utilizes technology ensures that students remain connected to the digital world while they learn.
However, with so many new and shiny tech tools (especially with the most recent AI models), it can be overwhelming to try them all out. Instead, focus on one or two for your creative lesson plans using technology. Here are a few of my faves:
- Conker: a generative AI quiz maker that exports to Google Forms
- Khan Academy: a resource with SO many lessons in different areas (especially STEM) to meet students where they are academically and provide video tutorials and support
- Canva: a tool to create graphics, write and design with Magic AI tools, and even have students create presentations to share about themselves or their ideas for back to school lessons
Another way to use technology in your creative lesson plan is to have your students create a collage of images that show who they are. They can search for images themselves (with your supervision, of course), but they can also try their hand at fancy AI tools such as Dall-E or Canva’s Text to Image app. Students can describe an image that reflects who they feel they are, and the AI generates a picture matching their description. I personally think these AI models are super cool, and I’m sure your students will have a blast, too!
5. Provide Choice and Differentiation
Throughout your creative lesson planning, it’s important to acknowledge the diverse interests and learning styles of your students. This is crucial for your activities to be effective! Within your back to school lessons, offer choices that cater to your kiddos’ preferences. Allow them to select research topics, present information in various formats, or even collaborate in groups.
Starting the year with these sorts of activities gives you a sneak peek at which students prefer to work alone, in partners, and so on. In addition, by providing choice and differentiation, you can foster a sense of ownership and increase engagement in your classroom! Who doesn’t love creative lesson plans that also help lend to the positive learning climate we strive for?
One such example of a creative lesson plan that offers differentiation for content is by using choice boards. For back to school lessons, give your students multiple ways to present and introduce themselves to the class, such as writing songs or poems, using graphics made in Adobe Express or Canva, acting out a skit, and so on. Sure, many of us struggle with the whole introductions thing (myself included!), but by providing the element of choice you are allowing your kiddos at least a bit of control over how they’re more comfortable being introduced. We wouldn’t be effective as educators if we didn’t push them out of their comfort zones from time to time, though, right? 🙂
Another of my favorite ways to differentiate with creative lesson planning is through Genius Hour. This activity is great not only for back to school lessons, but also as a year-round adventure! Give your students a choice in a topic or question to research in self-guided sessions for about an hour a week. Genius Hour is excellent for extension activities or even to use in your regular ELA curriculum.
Of course, if you’re looking for a quick, printable option (and who would blame you? Saving time is a huge bonus!), you can always check out my back to school activity pack! It’s loaded with variety and choice, which is always the name of the game when it comes to keeping kiddos engaged.
With so many options laid out here to choose from, it can be intimidating to choose from them all for your back to school lessons! However, by incorporating these creative lesson planning strategies right off the bat, you can create an engaging, positive learning environment that sparks curiosity and sets the stage for a successful academic year. From infusing hands-on activities, gamify-ing learning, connecting lessons to real life, integrating technology, and providing your kiddos with choice and differentiation, there is certainly bound to be something here for even the least school-happy students.
Back to school time is always memorable. Ride the wave of first day excitement and keep it going with these innovative, creative lesson plans that make back to school a fantastic experience for your elementary students!