Back to School Top 5 Make it Mondays

One more week and the kids arrive! I’m frantically trying to squeeze in a few quick trips before heading back but really, teaching never completely leaves my mind. So, before I spend the weekend at the beach, here are a few things you can easily make for your classroom to help get the year off to a great start.

Here are five DIY Back to School items that you can do cheaply and quickly to get ready for your students to arrive!

1. Bucket Filler Reminder

On the first or second day of school I gather the kids around for a morning meeting lesson and read this book: Have You Filled a Bucket Today by Carol McCloud.


After reading the book, we brainstorm ideas to make an anchor chart of bucket fillers (nice things to do/say for others) and bucket dippers (ways we don’t want to act). I make a visual reference of this lesson in my room by taking a kid’s sand bucket, drawing a face on it with a sharpie, and then putting up a sign that says “Have you filled someone’s bucket today?”


2. Donut Philosophy

Here’s another class meeting discussion topic for the first or second day. I explain that the Donut Philosophy is about how you look at life. You can look at the delicious, beautiful parts of it, or you can focus on what’s missing, cause chances are, something’s always going to be missing.

I talk to the kids about how we want our class to be a positive place and how things won’t always be perfect, but that we’ll try to focus on what’s going well (as opposed to griping/complaining etc.).Then I pass out donuts for the kids to eat, and that makes me the best teacher ever in their eyes!

BTW…I made the donut using butcher paper, markers, and a bit of laminating.

3. White Boards and Erasers

My students keep whiteboards, expo markers, and erasers in their desks, as we use these all the time. When I want to get individual feedback quickly from the whole class and thumbs up or down just doesn’t always cut it, these come in handy!

I get a whole set of whiteboards by going to Lowe’s or Home Depot and asking them to cut a big piece of shower-board into 12 x 12 squares (just smile nicely and explain that you’re a teacher and they’re always happy to cut these for free).

For $15, I have a set of 30 that lasts the whole year.
My erasers are cut from carpet remnants (right now I’m using my own new carpet scraps). These erasers last a long time, work perfectly and free is always good!

4. Partner Matching Sticks

I actually have three different sets of large Popsicle sticks. I keep each set in a coffee cup in my yellow plastic caddy (see above). On one set I have each child’s name.

On the second set, I have stickers, in matching sets of two. So if a child gets a sticker with a dog on it, when I say “Go”, he/she looks for the other person with the same dog sticker and the two of them become partners for that activity.

The third set of sticks is my favorite way to match up pairs. Each set of sticks has the name of a famous set of friends. For example, one stick has Winnie the Pooh and the other has Piglet. One has Tarzan and the other has Jane, and so forth.

Great way to randomly assign groups of two…Oh, and tell the kids that the “Sticks don’t lie”. Kids who are chosen by sticks must remain partners (no trading or joining with other twosome).

5. Character Counts Boards

I teach a different character counts trait each month. These displays help remind the kids of the positive behaviors that we’ve talked about. I make small copies of the book covers from books that I read aloud to the kids during morning meetings.

My hope is that the pictures will also remind them of the lessons we’ve shared from the stories we’ve read together. This one is from our Caring Kit, which is actually a month-long unit that you can download for FREE here.

Here’s the year-long resource Character Education Kit that I’ve created. I think it’s really the most important thing I teach!


If you are looking for Back to School resources and some fresh and new activities, I have created a Back to School Unit for 3rd – 5th grades that includes both print AND digital formats! These are low or NO PREP for the busy teacher!

Back to School Activities for 3rd - 5th Grades

Thanks for stopping by!

The Teacher Next Door - Creating upper elementary resources that target standards for busy teachers

You might also like...

The Teacher Next Door - Creating upper elementary resources that target standards for busy teachers

Hi, I’m Jenn, CEO and owner of The Teacher Next Door!

I know that you strive to be an effective upper elementary teacher while maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

In order to do that, you need resources that are impactful,
yet simple.

The problem is that most resources and curriculums out there are far from simple. The pages upon pages of daily lesson plans are just plain overwhelming.

At TTND, we believe teachers should be living their lives outside of the classroom, and not spend hours lesson planning and searching for resources.

We understand that now, more than ever, teachers need space to be themselves which is why we create and support teachers with timesaving tips and standards-aligned resources.

Want access to TTND's Free Resource Library? Sign up for our newsletter and we'll email you the exclusive password!





* Please note: If your school has strong email filters, you may wish to use your personal email to ensure access.

Cookie Consent Banner by Real Cookie Banner