The first day always makes me nervous. The first day of school, the first day of a job, the first day in a new town; it doesn't matter the context. It's the first of an experience and that means we have to do things we may have never done before with people we probably don't know. Even the prompt, "Tell us your name and something unique about yourself." Who is left sitting around the table without the running inner monologue of, "Don't forget to say your name, oh jeez, something unique, it should be something cool. What's something I've done that other people might not have done. Glassblowing? You only did that two times, don't lie on your first day. Gosh, am I really so boring that the only interesting thing about me is that I like to paint? There's other things, what do I do...."? It's nerve wracking to try and think of something we want to share with strangers, and it's often more difficult for people to talk about themselves.
It's been my experience the first day with students, whether it be the first day of the year, the first day with me as the teacher, or the first day back from vacation, is difficult to not let it be wasted. Students want to feel safe sharing their ideas with me. Instead of asking for my students to share personal information, I've found this durational activity is a great to get students to open up, foster trust with peers and myself, and stretch their perspectives and understanding as well. It also provides students with something to share with the class that is not directly about themselves.
The activity, In the News, dictates students bring in an article from any of the provided art news websites, or a website of their choice so long as the article is about art related current events. The presentation is very casual. We pulled up the article on the projector, the student gave a brief overview of what the article is about, and poses a question or perspective for the class to discuss. Students share ideas, ask questions, and can facilitate respectful debates. This discussion usually only lasts seven to ten minutes per article. I kicked off the activity with an example, and then every class following two students each presented an article at the beginning of class.
These discussions opened up students, and we learned quite a bit about everyone's interests and ideas. I also learned a lot about some current events that I don't think I would have read up on.
PS- This is an activity I shared with high schoolers, but I think this could be appropriate for students in even fifth or sixth grade, depending on available technologies.
PPS- "Hello, my name is Hannah, and one unique thing about myself is I used to be a pastry chef."