- A great first week of school activity is “Me in a Bag.” Encourage students to use their creativity when placing items that must fit in the bag.
- Start by setting the example and have your own bag prepared. Present your items explaining the reason for each.
- Be flexible with the number of items in the bag and show genuine interest as you listen and ask questions. Record some notes as you listen. Variations include “Me in a Box” and “Me on a Board.”
At a time when developing relationships with students is more important than ever, any activity that can help foster that bond early on is welcome. One question I see asked in various educator groups every year at this time is, “What activities does everyone do with their students the first week of school?”
“Me in a Bag” is always my answer! A quick Google search will bring up many different versions of this activity, but you can easily customize any of them to make this your own.
I always give the students an actual small brown paper bag (lunch bag size) and tell them to decorate it however they’d like. Then I ask that inside, they place 5 items that tell me something about themselves—things they like, things they do, things that are important to them. I challenge them to get creative with it! I encourage them to place 5 “different” items in the bag (in other words, not all the same thing or from the same category).
The trickiest part is that all items have to fit in the bag. I give the example that if you love basketball, you obviously can’t fit an actual basketball in the bag. Then we brainstorm what you could put in the bag to represent basketball instead. Some students will offer up that you can put a team medal you received for basketball, a basketball keychain, or even the logo of your favorite basketball team in the bag. The creativity that this part of the discussion generates is a great way to get your students thinking out of the box (or bag!) from day 1…literally!While some people may claim you are wasting time those early days with fluff activities, I look at it quite the opposite. Relationship building activities are never a waste of time and will prove their worth sooner rather than later. Click To Tweet
Set the Example
I have my own bag ready to go on the first day to give the students an example and also help them learn about me. The 5 items I put inside are:
- Picture of my family (including our dog) because these are the most important people in my life.
- Passport because I love to travel.
- Cookie spatula because I love to bake.
- Baseball because it’s my favorite sport.
- Seashell because I live by the beach and it’s my favorite place to go.
I talk about each of the items and students are allowed to ask me questions and offer their thoughts. It’s a very non-threatening way for them to open up and discover more about me.
Show Genuine Interest
I always ask the students to bring in their bags the following day. We don’t usually get through all of them the next day (with so many other things to do the first few days), so this extends over the course of a couple of days. I’m not a stickler about the number of items in the bag; some kids can genuinely only come up with 3-4 items.
Some students will appear to put a lot of effort into this activity, while others look like they threw a few things in their bag on the way out the door that morning. But that’s not what matters. I try to make a big deal over everyone’s bag and show genuine interest in what they present. Again, the intent of this activity is to build relationships—not just between myself and the students, but between the students themselves. I ask them questions about their items and encourage their classmates to do the same. I jot down some notes to remember specifics about students, which helps me with my relationship building.[scroll down to keep reading]
I encourage students to present their bags at the front of the class, but if they feel more comfortable staying at their desks, that’s ok too. They could also present in small groups. Last year, of course, we had several students presenting them virtually. Feel free to experiment and see what works best for you and your classes!
“Me in a Bag” could easily be turned into “Me in a Box” or “Me on a Board.” You may even want to give your students a choice of how they present themselves! Another idea is to have the entire activity done online, either assigning students a Google slide to contribute to or creating a Seesaw assignment.
Whatever you decide to do, this activity is sure to be a hit! You’ll be amazed to see how much of your students’ personalities shine through in those first days of school. It’s also fun to see what classmates remember about each other even as the year progresses. Students themselves get excited when you remember one of their items or ask them down the road about something they mentioned during “Me in a Bag.”
While some people may claim you are “wasting time” those early days with “fluff” activities, I look at it quite the opposite. Relationship-building activities are never a waste of time and will prove their worth sooner rather than later.
Good luck this upcoming year and have fun creating memories with your new students!
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About Becky Thal
Becky Thal is a 5th grade math and science teacher in New Jersey. In addition, she works on marketing projects for the Teach Better Team and is an edtech consultant. Prior to starting her career in teaching in 2005, Becky worked for several years in advertising in New York City. She is an active member of her school staff and local community. In her spare time, Becky enjoys trips to the beach, trying new restaurants, and attending her kids’ various sports games and events. She lives with her husband, three children, and Labradoodle, who she loves spending time with on the weekends.