The First Day of Biology Class: A Step-by-Step Guide for Teachers

Back to school time is so exciting . . . and hectic . . . and stressful!

If you’re . . .

  • new to teaching
  • new to Biology
  • feeling overwhelmed
  • just looking for something new to try

. . . then, here’s my two cents on what you should do on the first day of school in your Biology class.

This plan developed over many years of trying just about everything. I even tried letting the students take turns reading through the syllabus. I’m not kidding. What was I thinking? I wasn’t thinking – I was just trying to get through it!

I am VERY detailed anyway, but I get crazy detailed when I’m nervous. Over-preparing allows me to sleep at night. So I actually wrote a “script” for the first day of school and many, many other days after that. But, for this post I’ll keep the plan relatively brief and you can add your own touches to it.

Let’s get right to it!

The First Day of Biology

Agenda on the board

Monday, August 14, 2017

  • Welcome to Biology!
  • Frayer Model – Life
  • “Inner Life of the Cell” Video
  • Break the Ice Cube Game


1. Greet students . . .

outside and direct them to find their seats by looking for their name on the desks. They’ll figure this out – let them know that they’re basically in alphabetical order if that helps.

See more on seating charts and why I’d never teach without one in the “10 Things” article mentioned below.

2. Start RIGHT on time . . .

As soon as the bell begins to ring, come in, seating chart in hand, and stand right in the front, center of the room. As soon as the bell stops ringing, start speaking. Seem like too much? Skip it if you want to, but I did this every single day. Really.

3. Welcome

I always greeted my classes with a warn welcome. Try an introduction like, “Good morning, I’m Mrs. Brooks. Welcome to first period College Prep Biology. Thanks for sitting in assigned seats. That really helps me check attendance and learn your names quickly.” Students will do a lot of things they don’t really want to do if you’re nice about it and if they think they’re helping you out.

4. Check attendance . . .

as quickly as possible. Ask students to think about the word “biology”, what it means and what they think they’ll be learning this year. Encourage them to look around the room for some “hints” as you’re checking attendance and making sure everyone is in the correct seat.

5. Facilitate a short discussion . . .

about the word “biology”. Students usually know what the “–ology” part means, so write it on the board when they say it and tell them the ‘bio” part if you have to. Brainstorm some topics that will be covered. Accept all answers, just as you would in any brainstorming session, and write them on the board as the discussion progresses.

6. Frayer Model

Think some more about “Life” with the Frayer Model. I L-O-V-E this for stimulating thinking! The Frayer model is a research-based strategy that helps students develop deep understandings of key terms. Get your FREE Frayer Model Activity HERE.

  • frayer model lifehand out worksheets 
  • give brief instructions for the activity (Instructions are included in Teacher’s Guide.)
  • get video ready as they are finishing up
  • ask for volunteers to share what they wrote, encourage others to add to their worksheet as they hear new ideas
  • no correction necessary, just be encouraging and positive about their thinking skills

7. Video

Chances are, during your Frayer model discussion, something about “cells” will come up. So this next activity fits in the plan perfectly right here. “Inner Life of the Cell” is a 3-minute video developed by a cell biology group at Harvard several years ago. It’s just short enough and awesome enough to really keep students’ attention. I even showed this to parents during Open House one year.

And, by the way, there’s a longer narrated version that you can show during your Cells chapter later.

8. “Break the Ice” Cube Game

Now that they’ve done some thinking, it’s time for some-lighthearted fun!

It’s FREE! Just click the image to get yours.

break the ice cube game

This ice-breaker game will not only help your students get to know each other, but it will also give you an opportunity to watch them in action and start learning their personalities.

Be sure to have your “Get into Groups” plan ready to go. Are they working at their desks? Or at lab tables? Have short, simple instructions prepared so this transition goes off without a hitch. 

Since this will be the first time they’re working in groups in your class, you’ll want to state some quick rules. Here are my 3 basic rules for students working in small groups:

  • stay with your group
  • contribute to the group – do your part and respect others
  • keep voices at small group or table level (however you want to describe lowered voices)

9. Clean-Up

Watch the clock and start clean-up about 5 minutes before the end of class. Have a plan for this transition, too. Do students need to return to their desks? Move their desks back into place? Are they turning anything in? Or saving it for later?

10. Dismissal

Every student should be in his or her assigned seat and listening before I dismiss them at the bell. Don’t ever talk over them. Use your best manners – smile and say something nice like “great to meet you”, “see you tomorrow”, “thanks for a wonderful first day”, etc.

And, if you have a minute or two to spare, this is the perfect time to ask if anyone has questions, restate some things that came up in class today, or give them an idea of what will be happening tomorrow. You might need to discuss that syllabus tomorrow, you know?

Need to make some adjustments?

Because every school schedule is different, here are a couple of places where you can easily tweak the plan:

  • #6: Frayer Model: Students can complete this at home and we’ll revisit it tomorrow OR take it up, compile info, return tomorrow and use for discussion
  • #8: Ice Breaker Game: Stop game when time is up or continue the next day if you feel it needs more time

Let them know you care . . . about them and about being a good teacher.

When you greet students at the door, they see that you care about them.

When your classroom is clean and organized, students see that you care about what you do.

When you’re prepared – seating charts, agenda, and smooth transitions from one activity to the next, they’ll see that you’ve got your teacher act together!

Teaching is very personal . . .

So, if this doesn’t sound like it will work for you, I totally understand. Maybe there’s something you can take away from this plan, but in the end, you have to do what feels right to you. The success of your school year has as much or more to do with your relationship with your students as it does with how much you know about Biology or how much they like the subject.

I’d love to hear your ideas about what to do on the First Day of Biology.

Finally, if you haven’t read my two other “Back-to-School” posts, you can link to them here:

10 Things Every Science Teacher Should Do BEFORE the First Day of School

5 Common Mistakes Science Teachers Make on the First Day of School

Happy Back-to-School! Have a fantastic year teaching the BEST. SUBJECT. EVER!

Carla Brooks is the owner and curriculum designer of Science Island Curriculum which specializes in creating engaging and effective curriculum for Biology and Anatomy & Physiology

About Carla Brooks

A highly qualified public high school science teacher for 18 years, Carla's credentials include a B.S. in Secondary Education: Biology from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, an M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from Chaminade University and National Board Certification in Adolescent and Young Adulthood Science. After personal circumstances required her early retirement from teaching, Carla has enjoyed sharing her lessons and experience on this website and in her Science Island Store on Teachers Pay Teachers.

2 comments on “The First Day of Biology Class: A Step-by-Step Guide for Teachers

  1. Love the ice breaker !! Thank you 🙂 Cannot wait to use it this year. My kids are special ed, so I think I will try to save some time by creating the cube myself. I am also using this video ( ) since I am not sure what type of learners they are or how long their attention span is.

    • Hi Laura – So sorry for the delay in my reply. My site has been hiding comments from me for some reason. Trying to get that figured out now. Anyway, I LOVE everything Frank Gregorio makes and I’m sure your kids will love that video. I hope they like the ice breaker, too. Have a great year!

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