Technology Pursuit

Blending Technology Into the Language Arts Classroom

5 Ideas to Start the Semester

I’m always faced with a dilemma the first few days of the spring semester. Students are busy rearranging schedules, so I have students switching sections and often at least a few brand new students coming into my class for the first time. (And depending on your school, you may be getting completely brand new students).

I hate to jump into heavy content lessons in these first few days because of the schedule changes, so each January I’m faced with the conundrum of what to do those opening days.

Without further ado, here are five strategies I’ve used over the years.

  1. Breakout/Escape Game. This is my plan for the first day back this semester. My Brit Lit students will be reading Macbeth, so they’ll be playing a modified version of Unlocking Shakespeare. My College Comp students are continuing their persuasive writing, so they’re playing a modified version of this Ethos-Logos-Pathos game. I love creating my own Breakout games, too, but with a plethora of these games available now, it’s also super easy to take another pre-made game and modify it to meet your own needs.

2. Marshmallow Challenge. Another great option, especially a day or two into the semester, for building both relationships among students and for encouraging innovation and out-of-the-box thinking. While this may not be focused on any content area, it’s a great activity to set the tone for your classroom. Plus, it can be adapted to many content areas. For my own area, we reviewed expository paragraph structure by writing reviews about the activity.

3. One Word. You’ve likely seen–maybe even participated–in Jon Gordon’s One Word movement, where you select one word that will be your touchstone for the year. Now take the next step and do it with your students. Find out more about how I did it in this post.

4. Social Collaboration Game. Start the year with a little fun and get your students socializing and critically thinking. One of my students’ favorite games last semester was Two Rooms and a Boom. While you can purchase the published version, you can download the game digitally–it just takes a little more work cutting apart cards. Mafia is another similar game that can be played with large classes. If you have a smaller group, you can check out One Night Ultimate Werewolf.

5. Game Jam. Let your students create a game! All you need for a basic game jam is some materials such as markers, poster board, notecards, dice, baskets, whatever you have around your classroom. I prefer to give the students a few parameters, such as a theme, or a few rules, such as it can’t be a basic Q/A game. Parameters can be extremely helpful for them, especially if it’s the first time they’ve ever created a game; otherwise, they may be overwhelmed by the options. Then, you’ll of course need a second day for the students to play each other’s games! For more information, check out The Game Jam Guide.


  1. Thanks for sharing my escape game! These ideas are awesome!

  2. Incredible ideas here! I’d add PAYBACK at (this is a simulation/game focused on paying for college) to this list for both juniors and seniors who may be gearing up for the next move. Enjoy! Keep rockin’

    • Melissa Pilakowski

      January 5, 2018 at 2:24 am

      Thanks for the suggestion! I’m going to add that as a sidequest for my juniors and seniors!

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