Expect Unexpected Engagement When you try Hexagonal Thinking in ELA


308: Build an Easy Careers Unit
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You Can Enjoy The First Week of School

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The first week of school feels like five weeks rolled into one. You’re trying so hard to learn names, establish classroom culture, introduce routines, introduce yourself, share information about the course, build community… and of course, take attendance, water your new plants, help out your neighbors along the hall, grab teacher shoes that match every day, pack lunches for the first time in a couple of months…

Whew. It’s a lot, but it’s also exciting! Today I want to share some fun ways to keep that first week feeling vibrant and inspiring alongside the necessary chaos.

Cultivate Community with Hexagonal Identity One-Pagers

This activity accomplishes four things in one. You get to introduce two creative strategies for the year – hexagonal thinking and one-pagers, AND work on learning student names and building classroom community.

Here’s how it works:

Students start by creating hexagonal one-pagers about themselves, including things like their names, their favorite books, places they’ve lived or want to travel to, music or art they love, the subject they like best or the job they want to have some day, etc. You can choose what you want to ask them to include. Put out colorful markers, flair pens, and maybe even collage materials, and let them create using a combination of images, doodles, and words.

Then they work in small groups to begin connecting their hexagons. Are there two people who love the same music? Who both want to visit Mumbai some day? Who are die-hard Rick Riordan fans? They line up their hexagons so that the sides that match ideas from other people connect, creating a hexagonal web.

Next, small groups begin to connect to other small groups, finding more connections. At this point, it’s time to direct them toward your walls and let them start taping up their connections as they talk to each other.

By the end of the activity, you’ll have a colorful representation of your community and the many connections within it on your walls.

You can read more here, if you wish. You can find this curriculum set here on TPT, if you’d like to use mine.

Learn names with Name Tent One-Pagers

This is a very similar project, and it’s always hard for me to choose which I prefer for day one, so I’m giving you both options!

For this project, you give students stiff paper that can fold and stand up on their desks. Here, again, they’ll add information and pictures about themselves – their name, their favorite authors, their favorite quotation, etc. I like to use a template, so students have a list of things to add that match directly into the shaped structure on the name tent.

The great thing about this project for you is that you can have students use their name tents until you learn everyone’s names. I even like to take a picture of each student holding up their name tent on the first day and swipe through them at home until I learn all the names – it saves me so much stress in the first week. You can save the name tents for quick seating changes later on – simply put out the name tents where you want people to sit in small groups, at stations, or for discussion anytime. Subs will also love these!

You can learn more in this blog post: The Easiest Way to Learn Student Names. You can find my curriculum set for it on TPT here.

Establish Connection with Attendance Questions

This is such a quick-and-easy way to establish connection and community. As you get rolling with the year, let each student answer a question when you call the roll. A question with a one or two word answer, like “Who is your favorite author?” or “Which is more fun – popcorn or cotton candy?” This adds an extra five or ten minutes to the attendance process, but it also gives everyone a chance to get to know each other better and ease into the class period.

These are especially great in the first month, but I suggest returning to them regularly throughout the year when you can spare the time.

Download the free poster below to print and hang by your desk here.

Pass out Syllabi that only took 5 Minutes to Create

A syllabus is an important part of week one, but most kids don’t pay a whole lot of attention. So you want something that looks nice and gets the info out there, but doesn’t take much time (and you definitely don’t want to read it out loud, at least in my experience). That’s why I designed some helpful templates to speed up the process for you.

You can join 50,000 other creative teachers when you sign up for my free weekly teaching ideas emails below, and the syllabus templates will be the first thing you get from me in your inbox.

Kick off your Choice Reading Program

The first week is the perfect time to start getting kids excited about the books in your choice reading library. You can host a book tasting, keep stacks on your tables that are ready for kids who arrive early or finish early, or roll out the first book of your First Chapter Friday program.

Quickly Collect the Info you Need

A back-to-school survey can help you get the information you need, like students’ preferred pronouns, favorite authors and books, and a bit about their interests. This makes for a helpful platform to build on as you start to create relationships with kids. These are fun to design in Canva, or you can find the ones pictures below on TPT here.

I hope these activities and resources will help you breathe easier as you envision a colorful, creative week one. After all, it’s a great chance to kick off the year with a positive tone and build community, even if the pace is always pretty wild! I’m rooting for you.

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I'm Betsy

I’ll help you find the creative ELA strategies that will light up your classroom. Get ready for joyful teaching!







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