Recipe for a Great First Day Back

3 Steps for Transitioning out of Vacation Mode

When students re-enter the classroom after a long break, they are likely still in “Vacation Mode.” The following recipe will help students leave vacation behind them and build enthusiasm for the coming weeks.

Step 1: Door Check

Transitioning back after vacation is hard on everyone. We’ve had days out of our regular routine and possibly with very little scheduled agenda. Aside from the difficulty of getting back in the swing of things, there’s the added distraction of seeing friends again after time apart. Rather than fight these distractions, take time for them. You can think of this like a luggage check at the door. Rather than let all that distraction lie around the whole class, let students check it, unpack it, and be ready to move on.

There are several ways to accomplish this, but most important is to be clear with students about the purpose of the check-in.

Here are some ideas:

  • Ask students to draw or write down the memories they would like to keep from their vacation.
  • Go around the room and have each student share the memory he or she enjoyed or treasured most.
  • If there are too many students for individual sharing, break students into smaller groups to chat and discuss.
  • Students can then place their written memories into their bag and physically leave the bag of memories by the door.

Step 2: Reflect on Last Semester and Make Goals for the New

Now that students have had to time to unpack their distractions and leave them at the door, it’s time to transition into thinking about course content. Before diving in, it’s nice to reflect back on the previous semester — this can help give context to what’s to come and reorient students.

Ask students to think back on the things they are most pleased with from last semester, such as what they are proud of or what they learned that they thought was neat. Then, reflect on what they wished they had done differently or could do better in the future.

Step 3: Ask a Big Question to Spark Curiosity about the Coming Semester

Ok, students have left their vacation memories at the door, and have begun to think about what they’d like to get out of this semester. Now to end the period by whetting their appetites for what’s to come!

Think about what you will be accomplishing this semester. Is there a big theme or overarching question that could encompass the semester or at least the next unit of study?


  1. History: “This semester we will be studying from 1900 to present day. What do you think the most significant event or invention has been in the last 120 years and why?”
  2. ELA: Let’s imagine you were about to read Romeo and Juliet or Pride and Prejudice. You might ask, “Would you ever tell a friend not to date a particular person? Why or why not?”
  3. Physics: “This semester, we will be studying orbits. If you were told a strange object had been detected near earth, what would you do or want to know first?”

Once students have had a chance to formulate their own opinion on the question, have students share answers and encourage questioning and debate. When the bell rings, students will be in the midst of a vibrant discussion and excited to see how subsequent classes will address the debate.

Here’s a Deck of sample questions that follow this recipe. Feel free to make a copy and use for your own class.

Wishing you a happy new year!