The Mega List of Must-Do Start of Year Activities for a Captivated Class

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At the beginning of the new year after winter break, we often get caught up in the whirlwind of familiarity, chaos of getting grounded after break, and getting on track for standardized test season. However, it is important to keep in mind the beginning of the new year is also a time students can start to feel stressed OR empowered.

As a teacher, it is normal to find yourself wondering things like, “How can I make this a loving atmosphere for my students?” or “What activities should I implement?” or “How can we feel on track?”

When you’re unsure what to do, it’s hard to move forward. 

The good news is, you can easily bring order to the chaos by implementing student-centered start of year activities.

In this post, I’ll define a plan and provide 3 start of year activities for elementary students to implement after winter break. I hope that this will give you a roadmap so you can get started with your start of year plan and captivate your classroom.

What is the perfect start of the new year activity for elementary students?

At the start of the new year, students might feel chaotic or disconnected after winter break. Prioritizing activities and time together as a class will help students reground for the second half of the year. 

In other words:

Planning the second half of the school year kick-off activities will help students remain centered and ease your class back into classroom routines after break.

The added benefit is that you’ll really begin to reconnect with your students again!

1. Write Letters to their End-of-Year Self

A way to get grounded and set personal goals for the second half of the school year is to prompt them to write a letter to their future selves.

This is a crucial start of year activity because it allows the students to get out their feelings and fears on paper.

Many teachers who are new to beginning of year activities start out on the right track, but then get stuck because they focus too much on group activities and interactions. 

And then they wind up with a classroom of nervous students.  

The key to warming up your classroom is to give them a moment of self-reflection. 

To get started here, give them a sequence of questions to answer that will help them release some of their anxious thoughts. At the end of the year, they can revisit these letters and see how much they have grown.

2. Outside Activities

With all of the pent up excitement of starting the second half of the year together, getting outside will add a bit of variety to your brain breaks and allow your students to organically connect with their peers outside of the classroom.

If you’ve spent hours putting together start of year plans but something still feels off – like your students are still feeling apprehensive, this is likely the piece that’s missing. 

Without this, you can do all of the worksheets and icebreakers and still not have the captivated class that you want.

What can you do?

A really useful technique for preparing your students for a great year is welcoming them to let off some steam in the outdoors through intentional outdoor activities.

One I like to use is what I call  “encouragement bubbles.” Model for them how to blow out the bubbles while saying encouraging words to themselves or a classmate. Watch as the encouraging words float away and go out into the world. 

Another great activity is a calming nature walk. When things get busy and days are full, this helps students practice mindfulness. Take a walk at the start of the day and identify animals, sounds, and plants that catch their attention. Practice breathing and counting techniques as you take steps around the building. 

3. Classroom Icebreakers

Your classroom is back together, so it’s time to implement some start of year group activities that will help them collaborate with their peers and reconnect in their classroom.

This is where you’ll really start to create a captivated classroom to kick off the second part of the year.


Of course, this requires some tools you might not have on hand. Consider using this activity bundle (a community favorite) to streamline the planning process of cultivating a caring community in your classroom.


After winter break, the process you can use to initiate these activities is:

  • Introductions and Reconnection: Introduce the purpose of the icebreaker activities, emphasizing their role in building a positive classroom community as you all work together to have the best second half of the year ever. Clearly set expectations for participation, respect, and inclusivity.
  • Activities: Distribute pre-prepared activities explaining key instructions and goals. Demonstrate one of the activities to provide clarity and set a positive tone. Encourage active engagement and address any questions.
  • Group Formation and Debrief: Once you’re done, organize students into groups, start the activities, and walk around to provide guidance. 
  • Conclude the session with a debrief class discussion, using the activity to guide reflections on the experience and highlight the importance of collaboration in the classroom.


Why is this important when it seems so simple? By taking them through this four step process with activities, they will acclimate quickly to following your directions, working together, and communicating as a class. This will get them back on track with ease before diving deeper into your curriculum. 

Once you’re done,  you’ll be well on your way to a captivated, excited class. 

Putting it All Together for Your Perfect Start of Year Activities

There you have it! The 3 components of your perfect start of year activities. 

It may sound like a lot, but like most things practice makes perfect. Just focus on one activity at a time. This will help you see what works and begin tailoring activities specifically to your classroom.

What’s next? Download the Walking into the New Year Writing Activity 

If you need help getting started, my Walking into the New Year Writing Activity will give you an activity for back to school that will create a strong foundation for the rest of the school year with your class. 

Click here to download Walking into the New Year Writing Activity now >>



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