Susan Riley | August 2020

First Week of School Activities During COVID-19

Back-to-school takes on a whole new meaning during COVID-19. Everyone has a different re-opening plan, which makes the traditional first week of school activities a little more challenging. Whether you’re going back in-person, fully remote, or as a hybrid model, how we connect with our students at the beginning of the year is crucial.

After all, connection is greater than curriculum. In order for our students to learn, they must know that we care for them. And the best way to do that is to take some time to foster relationships. But that can be tough when we’re separated by distance, masks, and screens.

So our team has compiled a list of first week activities, icebreakers, and getting to know you exercises which can be used in this changing school environment. We’ve also included ideas for modification if needed.  Please explore, print, and use these ideas as we begin the start of a brand new year.


These are ideas to begin introductions and getting-to-know-you activities.  Some are digital in nature and others can be easily used in socially distanced ways.

  • 7 Digital Icebreakers Using Google – simple and effective ideas for remote teaching icebreakers. These can also be used in a hybrid environment.
  • An Arts Integrated Icebreaker with Gummy Worms – this one can be modified so students could have the gummy worms at home or simply use gummy worm cutouts instead of actual gummy worms. This small modification makes this easy to do in any setting.
  • Creating a Classroom Community – there are bunch of ideas here from Scholastic for grades K-12.
  • Stage Direction Charades – this is tons of fun and is easy to do in a socially-distanced space. You can also have students do this at home in a synchronous opening exercise.
  • First 5 Days Framework – this is a helpful tool for establishing relationships while working on learning objectives.


Even in this different world of teaching, we still need to establish procedures for how class will go and what the expectations for learning are for students. Especially now, our children are craving this kind of structure. Here’s a few ideas to get started.

Hopefully, these first week of school activities will get your year off to a great start, no matter what that looks like for you. In these uncertain times, there IS the certainty that teachers are one of the greatest influences a child will have. Your dedication, positive spirit, and unwavering commitment to support all learners is inspiring.  We can’t wait to support you in paving the path ahead.

And if you need some more ideas specifically for remote learning, please check out the Remote Learning Reboot online conference being held in October. This event fully supports educators needing resources, tools, and structures for remote learning and qualifies for both CARES and ESSA funds. Be sure to share it with your administrator!

About the Author

Susan Riley is the founder and CEO of The Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM. She focuses on teacher professional development in arts integration, STEAM, 21st century learning skills, and technology. She is also a published author and frequent presenter at national conferences on Arts Integration and STEAM education. Susan holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education from the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ and a Master of Science in Education Administration from McDaniel College in Westminster, MD. She lives in Westminster, MD with her husband and daughter. Email Susan