Beginning the Year with Suitcase Introductions

All teachers understand the importance of the first day of school.  It is not only the day when you set the standards and begin to develop the classroom atmosphere, but also when you get to know your students and make your first impression.  The challenge is finding something that is engaging without being cheesy.

For the past several years, I have used a suitcase to introduce myself.  I’m not sure where I first heard of the idea, but I’ve found it a great way to get to know my classes in a simple and non-cheesy way.  Well, it’s a little cheesy, but I teach sixteen year-olds and they have never complained!

I begin by putting the outline of a suitcase up on my board and explaining to the class that this suitcase carries each of the things that are most valuable in my life, and I am going to share each one with them so that they can get to know me.  The first thing I do is write my name on the tag.

Then I typically give a disclaimer that I am not an artist, but I am going to draw a symbol for each part of my life.  This actually turns it into a little bit of a game where students have to guess what I am drawing.  If you don’t feel confident in drawing, you could create a presentation with photos instead, but because I always ask students to share their suitcases with me after I finish, I think it helps for them to see that I will not judge their artwork!


Some of the symbols I usually include are my college mascot, my hometown logo, a wedding ring, a dog bone, and different symbols to represent my personality.  After I draw each one, I talk a little bit about what it represents and why it’s important to me.

Once I finish, I tell my students that I want to learn a little bit about them too.  I pass out a notecard to each student and ask them to include their name, their own suitcase with symbols to represent their background, personality, hobbies, interests, etc., and a goal they have for the year.

At the end of this school year, after students wrote a reflection about something they accomplished from the year, I passed back student notecards with their suitcases and goals.  One of my students called me over to tell me that the accomplishment she wrote about was becoming more outgoing and participating in class, and that when she looked back at her notecard from the beginning of the year, her goal had been to try to be less shy and be more involved in class.  She was really excited that she had achieved her goal even though she had forgotten all about it!

As students are working on making their suitcases, I ask them to think about 1 or 2 things that they would be willing to share about themselves with the class.  Some students prefer to write out the information instead of drawing it, so I tell them that they can create it however they want, as long as they introduce themselves.  Once everyone is finished, each student gets an opportunity to introduce their name and a few things about themselves.  I think they feel more confident since they have had time to think about what they want to share, and then I get to keep their notecards to learn more about them and to help me memorize their names and interests!  I also like this activity, because I can use it with all of my ESL classes, regardless of the students’ English proficiency.

What activities do you do on the first day of school to get to know your students?


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