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Breaking the Ice – First Day of School Activities for Your Orchestras

Lesley Schultz • August 2022String Section • August 2, 2022

Ah, the first day of school. Whether we like it or not, inevitably the start of school comes around sooner than maybe many of us would like. The first day of school is full of anticipation and dread for many, students included. What can you do on the first day or (days) of school to help your students get to know each other and the procedures of your classroom without droning on through a syllabus? Throw in that if your orchestra bell is the last or first of the day and you may have more housekeeping placed upon you by the school, playing on the first day or two might not be possible for whatever reason.  

In orchestra sometimes we get very set in our ways with seating, so an easy way to mix it up a bit on the first day is to have them sit next to someone who is not in their section and/or not in their grade. Even the students who are new to the group if it is a multi-grade ensemble can figure out who isn’t in their grade, and if you have someone in the ensemble who is new to the building/district, they can sit anywhere. After taking attendance, you can provide 2-3 minutes to have them talk to their neighbor, if it is the beginning of the day the prompt could be for them to discuss what they think the day will be like, or how their day went if it is the end of the day. Hopefully, this will provide everyone with a much needed “pressure release” on the first day and get them talking to people who may or may not be in their usual circle of friends and classmates. 

Another idea is to have a syllabus scavenger hunt. They can work on this individually or in groups. How I like to do it in my classes is I make a kahoot or blooket (SBO: I had to look these up – great learning tools!) with key points from my syllabus that I really want my students to remember, and they have the answers in their syllabus. The questions come up with answers and working in teams or as individuals they select the correct answers. This is where making groups that are mixed with older and younger students in teams could be helpful, as many of your older students will (or should) know at least some answers going in. If you want a more individual take on the syllabus scavenger hunt, you could make an EdPuzzle (SBO: another great one!) and use it as a formative assessment. Just ask your questions or you could have everyone complete it at once, it’s an easy way to get everyone hooked into your Learning Management System.

A third idea in the first days of school is once they have instruments in hand have them sit next to someone they haven’t sat next to before. Now for basses, this is tricky, but possible, just set up “bass stations” in the middle of the sections, and make sure no one sits behind them. This will give everyone a new perspective while working through tuning and warmups, what it is like to sit in different areas of the room. The beginning of the year is the perfect time for this and has the bonus of “waking up the ears” of your students. You could take a day or two and have all the students switch chairs multiple times, running introduction/practice minutes to help break the ice between sections.

I hope everyone has a great start to their school year and remember to take time for yourself!

Lesley Schultz currently teaches secondary general music and orchestra at Princeton City Schools (Cincinnati, OH). She is a member of TI:ME (Technology In Music Education) and serves as the Ohio Chapter President and on the National Conference Committee. 

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