Try This Back-to-School New School Twist on an Old School Question

Back to school. 

It’s that time of year and students, parents, and merchants are getting ready.

And so are you.

What you do on your opening day sets the tone for your entire school year, and there are plenty of ideas for how to start.

Whether you are a first year teacher, or a veteran educator, using a first-day
ice breaker helps students ease into your class procedures and expectations,
and helps them get comfortable within the new social setting.

It also provides you with insight into the personalities and mindsets of your students.

Typical Ice Breaker Structures

Most ice breaker activities use one of these structures.

  1. paper and pencil find-the-person-who questionnaires.
  2. anticipatory sets to get students thinking about content
  3. intriguing examinations of topics from different perspectives

Some of the best ice breakers combine all three elements into one activity.

Try this one:

This question only requires a simple recall of events.

— What did you do during your summer vacation?

Ask the question this way to encourage inquiry.

— Guess what I the (teacher) did during my summer break?

Try this activity, and you will have students making inferences, drawing
conclusions, and supporting them with evidence — and writing something — on the first day.

Follow it with the second activity and gather information for the Project Based
Learning (PBL) Unit Have Passport, Will Travel, written by Kate Parker,
CFO of GoTeachGo.


Think and take Mini-Lesson #9  

Can you guess what the teacher did this summer?


Content Objective: Assessment for Informational Writing and Paragraph Structure

  • Use of Transitions
  • Use of Evidence to Support Assertions
  • Clarity and Coherency of Content
  • Evidence of Closure

Critical Thinking Skills Focus:

  • Look For Evidence and Drawing Conclusion
  • Making Connections

Total Time Approximations:

15 minutes – Mini-lesson
20-25 minutes – Partner activity


1. Gather Props that indicate things you did on your summer break

  • plants for gardening
  • pictures of family who visited
  • reunions
  • trip souvenirs
  • T-shirt w/logo
  • anything else that represents what you did during your break.

2. One roll of small carnival tickets
– alternate numbering 1, 2 on the backs.
3. Some kind of overhead display option, whiteboard
4. Two Critical Thinking Question Sets; one per activity (See lesson activities below for sets)

Typical First-Day Question with A Twist: Guess what I did this summer?

Before students enter your classroom, display
the following set of directions on the board in
front of the class:

1. Choose a seat, put your things down, and take
out 1 sheet of lined notebook paper.
2. Put your name on the paper.
3. Title the assignment:

What my teacher did this summer.

Procedural Suggestions

1.      As students enter your classroom, smile and welcome them, hand them a small raffle ticket, and invite them to choose a seat.

2.     Once all students are in the classroom, observe who noticed the directions written on the board, who is actually following them, and who is busy socializing. This gives you a quick insight into how to structure your lessons for individual classes.

3.     Settle them in, introduce yourself, take attendance, and go over your behavioral expectations, and daily and weekly routines and expectations. Tell students that every day there will be a short lesson (some call them bell-ringers) and that they will be expected to complete the lesson each day. Let them know your procedure for collecting and grading the assignment.

4.      Let students know that they will complete the first activity of the day by themselves, and you will collect it because it helps you understand how to help them when you know how they think as  individuals. Tell them the second activity will be done in partners, and for the partner activity, they will need their tickets.

Watch to see who fumbles about trying to find the ticket. 


5.      When the fumbling stops, check for the raffle tickets by asking students to hold them up so you can see how many still have them. This will also give you some first-day insight into the organizational skills of your students. Give out more to those who have misplaced them. Tell them to hang on to the tickets for the second activity.

6.      Allow for a few more minutes to set up for the mini-lesson for those students too social to notice the directions on the board. Walk around and observe, and help where needed. They should all have or be in the process of getting the paper set up with their name and the title on the page. Some may have even started to make a list of what they think you did over the summer. That’s okay. It’s another authentic assessment that shows which students are able to make inferences and are ready to get to work.

Mini-lesson Activity

1.     Once everyone has their papers set up, tell the students they will be using the critical thinking skills of looking for evidence and making connections using their own experiences to draw conclusions that lead them to smart, intelligent answers.

2.      Show students the items you brought to use as clues to what you did during your summer break, and show them one item at a time. Have students write the name of each as you show them. After you have shown all the objects, have students answer the following questions in paragraph form based on what they see in all 3 objects.

This activity will assess your students’ paragraph writing abilities and understanding of transitions in paragraph writing, so it is recommended that you don’t frame the paragraph for this activity.

3.     Display the main question on the board, and include these questions to be covered in the paragraph as part of the display, like so:

Main Question:  Can you guess what I did during my summer break?

  • What are the objects? List all three before you draw your conclusions.
  • From looking at the objects, what do you think I did during my summer break?
  • What evidence from or about the objects suggests that I participated in this activity?
  • What connections did you make to your own experiences that helped you draw this conclusion?
  • Use sensory clues to help you describe your ideas: smell, sound, sight, taste, touch
  • Were you right?

4.     Let students share their findings with the class. When the sharing stops, tell them how you spent your break as it connects with the items. Ask for a show of hands to see who got it right.

Lesson Extension Activity – Partners – Two Lies and One Truth

1.     For the partner activity, tell students to turn their papers over and write two lies and one truth about what they did during their summer break. Let them know that they will be trying to fool their partners, so they want to be clever in the clues they write.

2.     Then have them look at the number on the back of their tickets. If they have a  #1, they find someone who has a  # 2, and if a #2, find someone who has a #1. They may need to move about, so instruct them to take their papers, pencils, and tickets with them if they move.

3.     Once everyone is partnered up, instruct students to turn their papers over, and write their partner’s first and last name on the back.

4.      Next, students read their two lies and one truth to their partners, and their partners try to guess from the list which is true. Students then write about what they found to be true by answering the following question in paragraph form.
What is your partner’s clue?

  • Based on this clue, what do you think your partner did during his/her summer break?
  • What evidence from the clue helped you decide?
  • What connections did you make to your own experiences that helped you draw this conclusion?
  • Use sensory clues to describe your ideas: smell, sound, sight, taste, touch
  • Were you right?

5.    Once both partners complete the activity, have them trade papers, read what their partners wrote, discuss, make adjustments, and ask them if there was anything else they would like to have done. Prompt them to discuss places they would like to visit and make lists of them on their papers. This information will help you when planning for the PBL unit — Have Passport, Will Travel.

6.   Students then introduce their partners to the class and describe one thing their partners did during the summer.

7.   They may read from their paragraphs.

Set-up for PBL Unit  –   Have Passport, Will Travel

1. Finally—Show them the Essential Question for the PBL Unit Have Passport, Will Travel, to let them know they will be studying how to plan for travel to places they would like to see. Encourage them to discuss this question outside of class and come to class the next day with ideas to share.

Essential Question: What are the benefits of planning before you travel.


2.      Make sure to make brief notations about your observations throughout the lesson or directly after your class session.


1.     Monitor the time throughout the lesson, and end the second activity 3 to 5 minutes before the bell rings. Review with students how the critical thinking skills used helped them understand the requirements of each activity

2.      Remind them that the mini-lesson/bell ringer directions will be displayed daily, so they need to look for them each day and get started on the activity right away.

3.     Collect the tickets for the next class, and remind them to gather their things together in time for the bell.

4.     Leave them knowing how much you enjoyed working with them and how much you look forward to seeing them all tomorrow.

5.      Have them turn in their assignment as they leave the class.



These activities make a great introduction and way to gather information for the Project Based Learning (PBL) Unit Have Passport, Will Travel, written by Kate Parker, CFO of GoTeachGo.


Be sure to visit TeachersPayTeachers to examine lots of great PBL units of study from GoTeachGo.


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