The First Day of School – TLAP Style!

TLAP sign

That is the sign that is on the door to Dave Burgess’ classroom on the very first day of school. He suggests putting this sign on your door even if you are new to the school and the students haven’t heard any stories of you yet.

“The sign’s message creates an interesting sense of anticipation. They immediately wonder, What in the world is this class all about?”

Burgess also suggests having positive, upbeat music playing as students enter the room on that very first day. He states that it is “an audible reminder that they are entering a different world . . . my world.

Next, their eyes will focus on the desks. Every desk has a paper plate with a can of Play-Doh on it. Across the board, written in giant letters, are the worlds, “Do NOT Open the Play-doh!”

Already I am trying to break their pre-conceived notions about what to expect in a typical classroom. My goal is to stand out, to be different from their other classes.”

That has always been my goal as well. I have tried several opening activities on the first day of school. This year, I even did the Play-Doh activity, although I did it a little differently. I am eager to tweak it to make it even better next year.

As Burgess states, “it is far more important to create a unique experience from them on the first day than it is to be sure they know how many bathroom passes they will have each semester and when it is OK to use the pencil sharpener!”

Of course, those administrative details are important and need to be taken care of. Then, you can officially greet the class.

Good Morning Training

Start by standing in the front of the room and getting ready to address the class. Awkwardly square up papers, adjust the table or podium, straighten up your shirt, and other such activities.

If done correctly, there should be a combination of a few giggles and many wondering what the heck is going on. I then look up and say, “Good Morning” in a loud, firm voice. I wait in silence until I hear a smattering of good mornings and then storm through the class ranting that their response is totally unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

Not one single time will I accept that from you! When I say, “good morning” to you, you say, “good morning” to me. Not only that, but however I say good morning to you is how you say good morning to me!

If I say, “Good Morning!” (said with a strange accent). . . you say “Good Morning! (said with exact same accent).”  Let’s try this again, this is your first test of the year and yes . . . I am grading!

I then return to the front, face the class, and whisper my greeting. They should respond in kind and then I say, “Welcome to class, thank you for coming. I’m Dave Burgess and I’ll be your host on this Learning Extravaganza!”

The language here is important. And it is followed up by a hand-out to the students

“Welcome to the World Famous Learning Extravaganza!
Hosted by: Dave Burgess
Now Playing in SS-9

This class isn’t taught, it is hosted. And the phrase “now playing” gives the students the impression that they have entered a show.

This is a No-Meanness Zone!!!

This is the ultimate rule in the classroom. “I let them know that I will tolerate unbelievable levels of banter, playfulness, and seemingly outrageous behavior for a classroom, but I will never tolerate meanness. All of the fun will come grinding to a stop if somebody is being mean to another student or doing something that hurts another’s feelings.

You just can’t teach with my style of openness without emphasizing this rule It is critical for creating the safe and supportive kind of environment in which creativity, learning, and fun can coexist and flourish.

As part of this rule, I also tell them they should feel free to let me know if I am making them feel uncomfortable by drawing unwanted attention to them through my banter and teasing. I want my students to feel perfectly at ease approaching me about any issue that is occurring in class. Creating a place of safety is a prerequisite for the successful implementation of my teaching style.”


After that, give the students ten minutes to create something out of Play-Doh. The goal is to make something that “is in some way representative of themselves. They can have complete creative license to make anything they want as long as it is classroom appropriate.

I explain that I will show the class their creation, ask a question or two about it, and then have them tell us their name. They will not have to come to the front of the room and the whole process will take thirty seconds or less. That simple explanation of what to expect helps lower the stress students feel about speaking in the front of the class.”

And while the students are working on their creations, you can walk around, have informal conversations, and get to learn a bit about some of the students. You can help them come up with ideas and use all of this info to help design hooks to lesson later on in the year.

Learn Names

Address the students by name as many times as possible that first day and throughout the first week. Encourage the students to learn each other’s names as well. Names are an important part of the rapport and atmosphere you are trying to create in the classroom.

Hype Tomorrow

Thank the students for coming “and then say something along the lines of. ‘You don’t want to miss tomorrow. Something wild and crazy is going to happen at the beginning of class. You can either be here and see it, or just have to hear stories about it when you come back.’

This book is an amazing read and quite inspiring. I highly recommend it!


Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess

I will be blogging about it once a month over the rest of the school year. Make sure you keep coming back here for Teaching Tip Tuesdays so you won’t miss a single post!

Teach Like a Pirate Blog Series

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