How To Start The New Year Stronger Than Ever

A wise mentor once told me, "Start slow to go fast." Despite the fact that a new year is here and we're pressured to get through curriculum, prepare for standardized tests, etc., we need to start back up slowly and intentionally if we want our students to be as successful as possible. Here's how you can do that.

4 Tips for Teachers to Start the New Year with a Bang - by A Word On Third

1. Re-model things like it's the beginning of the year.

True interactive modeling shouldn't take much time; five minutes is plenty to reteach a routine. Re-modeling routines like transitioning from a mini-lesson to independent work, sharpening pencils, lining up, walking in the hallway, unpacking, packing up, and partner talk will make your first week back much smoother. Interactive modeling can look two ways:
  • Say what routine you're going to model and why it's important.
  • Model it (no voice-overs--just model).
  • Ask what students noticed about what you modeled, asking leading questions if necessary to help students identify important aspects of the routine.
  • Have a student model the same routine.
  • Ask students to identify what they noticed.
  • Give students a chance to practice and give feedback.
BOOM! Five minutes pass, and you're done. If you need it to be shorter, skip the 2 steps which involve having a student model the routine after you already modeled it. Read more about modeling like a beast here on my blog, or read some more from the interactive modeling gurus themselves: Responsive Classroom.

2. Use lots of reinforcing and reminding language.

Reinforcing language is exactly what it sounds like: positive reinforcement. However, it needs to be clear, concise, and specific. Instead of saying, "Good job," try saying, "Good job showing self-control by lining up calmly and quietly." Stay away from saying things like, "I like how you..." because it puts an emphasis on pleasing you rather than doing the right thing. 

Reminding language can be used proactively or reactively. If you are about to have students transition to independent reading, and you can feel they might need some reminders (a proactive situation), you might ask, "Who remembers how to transition to reading time?" and have students answer. You could also simply state, "Show me how to transition to reading time." However, if you don't say anything before hand and you then realize that your students need a reminder, you might quickly stop them and (reactively) say, "During our transition to reading time, it's important that we get started right away. Show me that."

3. Take lots of breaks.

If you feel like your students are giving you the glazed over eyes, they need an energizer. Try Responsive Classroom Energizers or a GoNoodle brain break. This will get their blood pumping.

With GoNoodle, you need to have a computer/projector and an internet connection so your kids can follow along, but you can quickly use that minute or two to get ready for your next class. I will usually get my materials out of my drawer and then finish the brain break with the kids. You can learn the Responsive Classroom energizers on your own at home if you don't have an internet connection or projector available to you at school, but it does require you to be the facilitator of the brain break. Unless, of course, your students know the energizers really well and you get a student to lead one!

Sometimes you'll need to get your kids to calm down too. If that's the case, I recommend trying a short meditation. Personally, I love using Headspace, so I use it in my classroom too. However, it can be a bit pricey if you're not into meditating and using your account personally too. If that's how you feel, I recommend grabbing the book I've linked to below. In the book, there are short guided meditations that I read to my students, and my kids love them. Click the picture below to learn more.

4. Intentionally set goals with your students.

Set some new hopes and dreams with your students. You may start the conversation by saying that you noticed many of your students have already reached the goals they set at the beginning of the year, or that they might be focused on different goals now. Even if the goals are the same, you might say that you want to give students a chance to revise their goals or rethink how they will accomplish them. I have a free hopes and dreams template that you can download in my Teachers Pay Teachers store by clicking here or on the picture below!

I've even heard of some teachers creating vision boards with their students. I personally create vision boards for myself each year, and I think it's an interesting idea to do this. I'm not sure if I'll have every student do this or if I might try doing this as a whole class. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts below!

I wish you a strong start to the New Year! These are the tried and true tips that save me every January, and I hope they save you too. Make sure to share your after-break tips below too!


  1. I love the guided meditation idea! Back in the day, that was my favorite part of yoga class! Also, I love Responsive Classroom and am glad you explain the ideas again. Happy New Year!

    1. Happy New Year, Susan! Let me know if you try out one of those books. I LOVE using them. It's a new peaceful addition to my class routine that takes place right before Morning Meeting. It's such a calm and luxurious way to start the day!