The first day of school can bring a mixture of emotions from delight to dread to returning students. Eighth grade is a year that can be a little intimidating, given the normal fluctuations in feelings that adolescents experience, not to mention the fact that high school is only a year away. Luckily, you as the teacher can set a positive tone for the entire school year and ease students' anxieties. By planning fun, interactive activities for the first day of school, you can begin building a sense of community and help your eighth graders to find their niche in the classroom environment.

Scavenger Hunt

Create a scavenger hunt list that helps your students to learn about each other. Write examples such as, "someone who has traveled out of the country," "someone who has more than four siblings," or "someone who can play a musical instrument." Once you've handed each student the blank list, give them a certain time period to go around the room and have the appropriate people initial the sheet. You may want to set certain criteria, such as only allowing the same person to initial someone's sheet no more than twice. Once the time limit is up, regroup in a circle and read the items aloud. Let the students volunteer information about who initialed their sheet. If time allows, you may want to encourage the students to briefly discuss the experiences or talents listed on the scavenger hunt list.

Shoe Mix

This is a fun, quick activity that helps your students to meet at least one person or find out something about the person that they didn't know. Have your students stand in a circle and remove one shoe. Tell the students to place the shoe in the center of the circle. Once the shoes are piled up, inform the class that they have three minutes (or you can set a different time limit) to find someone else's shoe, locate the person to whom the shoe belongs, and find out one interesting fact about the person. Set a rule that if they already know the person to whom the shoe belongs, they must find out one fact that they didn't already know. Once the time limit has expired, have the students sit in a circle again and share the interesting facts they learned about each other.

Birthday Line

This game helps students to work on alternative ways of communication, as well as learning about various roles within a group. Tell your students that they have to line up in a straight line in progressive order according to birthdays. Let them know that the main rule is that they cannot speak. Give the students approximately five minutes to accomplish this task. Once the five minutes are up, have each person in the line call out his birthday in order to see if the class succeeded in placing people in order. Have a "debriefing" time in which you allow the students to make observations about the process. You might want to ask questions such as "What other ways did you communicate? How is communication important in accomplishing a goal? Who were the leaders? Can everyone lead at the same time? What hindered your progress?"