Let Me Count the Ways: 5 Ways to Engage Students the First 5 Minutes of Class

by Carol Oseran Starin

You know where you’ll be – standing at the door to greet and warmly welcome each student.

But, after Sean is welcomed and hangs up his coat, what will he do until class formally begins? We establish routines and plans for other aspects of the class. It’s important to establish a routine for those first five minutes immediately after Sarah, David and Madison walk into the classroom.

Those first five minutes, prior to the formal opening (circle time, class meetings, etc.) when carefully planned can:

  • Set the tone and class climate for the day
  • Take students right inside an important idea or lesson
  • Focus students immediately
  • Provide a meaningful transition from carpool/playground to classroom demeanor
  • Motivate/encourage students to arrive on time. (Be cautious about this because most students are at the mercy of a driver.)
  • Minimize wasted time/maximize learning time
  • Give students some structured social time – our students live all over the city and many of them don’t know each other

Here are 5 ways – and many examples – to support the learning and build relationships in the first 5 minutes of class.

  1. “Do Now.”Set aside a particular section of the room – a corner, a bulletin board or poster. Students know that the minute they walk into the room they must head for the “Do Now” section.
    Here they may find one of the following:
    • A provocative or controversial quotation to discuss with a partner or write about in their journals
    • A pasuk to translate
    • A sentence fragment to copy and complete.
    • A question or text to study/discussed that grows out of the Parsha ha shavua. Example: Read the first 8 verses of parsha Vayera. List 7 things Abraham did to welcome his guests.
    • Current event – put up a current news article with two questions to answer.
    • Question of the Day
    • A list of words to define or translate. These may be words they will later see or hear in the book you are planning to read or the text you are planning to teach.
    • A survey to complete.
    • A shoresh (Hebrew root) with the question, “How many words can you make from this shoresh?”
  2. Give students class ownership by involving them in a variety of responsibilities. Have a chart that students check when they walk into the classroom – then they will know exactly what they are responsible for:
    • Take attendance by putting stickers on a chart
    • Prepare supplies for the day
    • Put fliers and notices in student mailboxes
    • Take out the tzedakah can
    • Water the plants
    • Straighten out the library
    • Collect homework
    • Document the new items that were brought in and placed in the mitzvah crib.
  3. Build relationships by beginning with “Snack and Chat.” Students come into class and find water bottles and snacks. They know these first few minutes are designed for them to talk and socialize before settling down to work.
  4. Use this time to involve students in quick “mini-lessons” that introduce, review, enhance or enrich previous lessonsWork in partners. List 5 things you remember from last week’s lesson about Noach.Write questions for the end-of-the year jeopardy game. Add the new questions to the Jeopardy box that is kept in the classroom.Find a friend and complete a graphic organizer, like the ones here.
  5. Design an on-going, long term art project. Students know that they can work on the project as soon as they enter the classroom.Ideas:
    • A quilt with many sections that students work on for weeks.
    • Torah mural – adding a section each week
    • Mosaic windows
    • Building a model of a Jewish home
    • Long term, ongoing mitzvah project. Example: collecting and sorting eyeglasses, baby clothes, toiletries that students bring to class.

If you have questions, suggestions or would like to become part of the “Five Things Advisory Group,” please write me at costarin@aol.com.

Thanks to Ira Wise, Peter Stark, Fran Pearlman, Marian Gorman, Julie Katz, Pesha Loike, Judy Kaskel.