How to Make Your First Day of Teaching Middle School Art a Blast

I used to hate the first day of school. Your students probably do, too. Why? Because it’s boring! No middle schooler needs to sit through an entire day talking about what they are going to learn throughout the year. The transition from summer to the school year isn’t always easy, and making students sit all day long isn’t going to help.

Check out these five ways you can create a better first day!

1. Don’t go over the syllabus.

You might be required to create a syllabus for your classes. Maybe you have to share it with the administration or parents. Sharing it with your students isn’t worth their time. Honestly, middle schoolers don’t care. They want to know what they are doing right NOW, not what they’ll be doing in three months. Most of your students’ other classes will do this on the first day of school, so make your class stand out by doing something different!

2. Teach expectations by giving students a challenging project.

student artwork

Often, the first days of school feel like a honeymoon period. This is your opportunity to test your students and teach expectations through trust. Consider using a material or doing a more advanced activity.

One of my favorite materials to use on the first day is spray paint. A dish soap resist painting project is a fun way to get students interested in art. It also allows you to model appropriate art room behavior throughout the process. Trusting your students to use a material like spray paint provides opportunities to model what learning will look like in your room.

However, it’s key to set the bar high from the beginning. If students aren’t following classroom expectations or procedures, stop the activity and use it as a way to set the tone for the school year.

3. Make sketchbooks with style.

Making sketchbooks on the first day of school is a no-brainer, but it usually doesn’t take a great deal of time. Instead of having students create the traditional “All About Me” sketchbook cover, show them an exciting art process.

student sketchbook covers

Try using this pulled string paint process to design your sketchbook covers. Students can add personal touches by turning their abstract designs into something else. This process also provides an excellent way to use up any last bits of paint from the previous school year.

4. Play the Pool Noodle Name Game.

Icebreakers can feel weird, forced, and awkward, but it is essential to get to know your students within those first days of school. One great idea is to do a name design art project. But, if you’re looking for something with more movement, try playing the Pool Noodle Name Game.  

It will get your students out of their chairs and learning names will have never felt so fun! You can learn how to play the game here.

5. Create a collaborative piece of art.

At the beginning of the year, the hallways of most schools feel a little bleak. Solve this problem by having all your classes create a collaborative piece on the first day of school.

students working collaboratively

It can be as simple as having students create a themed design on a 5” x 5” piece of paper. If you want to take the time to do some extra planning, you can create the outline of a design on a large piece of butcher paper. Ideas could be the school theme for the year or even an inspirational saying or message that spreads positivity. Students can use your template to collaborate as a team to create an amazing work of art!

The first day of school can set the tone in your art room. Think about the message you are conveying to your students by the activity you choose to do. Starting strong on day one can impact the rest of the year. Show your students how exciting the art room can be with one of these activities!

If you’re looking for even more first-day activities, check out the PRO Learning Pack we have on the subject! You’ll learn specific ideas to excite students on day one through choice, simple routines, and organized stations.

What is your favorite activity for the first day of school?

How do you get your students making art from day one?

Abby Schukei

Abby is a middle school art teacher in Omaha, NE. She focuses on creating meaningful experiences for her students through technology integration, innovation, and creativity.

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  • Stacey Johnson

    I love the dish soap resist painting project, however getting enough canvas’ can be quite expensive in a room of 35 students. Is there another medium we could use that is less expensive? Can it be done on wood? The image you have looks like paper of some sort? Also, do you know the background science behind why the spray paint doesn’t bond to the soap? I am teaching a science and art elective.

    • Abby Schukei

      We just used regular 80lb drawing paper for this. I’m not sure of the exact science behind it, but I’m guessing there is something in the gel of the soap that causes the spray paint to resist. It would be a similar reaction to water/oil, but not exactly sure why it does that!