I dreaded the first day of school–until I created my own high school scavenger hunt! This activity allowed me to introduce my students to their new classroom, my classroom expectations, and get students moving and talking on day 1–without me lecturing for a full hour!
In this post, I hope to help you craft your perfect back-to-school scavenger hunt. Make it even easier for yourself by grabbing my FREE Back-to-School Scavenger Hunt template right here.
(Check out more back-to-school activity ideas here!)
What is a High School Scavenger Hunt?
You’re probably familiar with the idea of a scavenger hunt. In a traditional scavenger hunt, someone provides the players with clues. The players must then use those clues to find more clues, locations, or hidden items.
A classroom scavenger hunt isn’t much different, but every teacher can add their own flavor.
Personally, I never wrote any riddles or required students to find anything in a particular order. Instead, I gave students questions about classroom expectations and procedures and required them to find the answers.
These answers, of course, were already posted around the room for students to find.
Once the prep work is done, a classroom scavenger hunt is easy to implement. In my opinion, it’s definitely easier than going through a slideshow or paper list of classroom rules. It is definitely more engaging for students, too.
The goals for my back-to-school scavenger hunts were to get students to explore the classroom and to learn class procedures.
Why is a Scavenger Hunt the Perfect Back-to-School Activity?
When you teach, you probably don’t spend sixty to ninety minutes lecturing at students. You probably don’t expect students to sit quietly without doing any work, thinking, or writing.
Yet, this is what a lot of first days of class look like. You hand out a syllabus (maybe you made it, maybe your district gave it to you). And the rest of the class is going over that syllabus, walking students through classroom rules, and maybe doing a getting to know you worksheet.”
Those are things that we have to get through, but this format is not indicative of your class. I know your class is way more engaging, interactive, and interesting than that!
And that’s why a classroom scavenger hunt is a better way to start the school year.
Instead of a long sit-and-get, you’ll get your students up and moving from day one. You’ll still go over classroom expectations and introduce students to your classroom, but you’ll do it in a way that will be more authentic to your teaching style.
Plus, your students will know right away that they can’t check out in this class. They are going to have to get up and get to work.
Even better is that you as the instructor won’t have to be front and center for the entire class. Once you’ve given students directions, you can walk around and start actually engaging with your new students.
In fact, this is why I began doing scavenger hunts on the first day. It was way easier for a teacher with social anxiety like me.
Creating a High School Scavenger Hunt Step #1: Plan
The first step in creating your high school scavenger hunt is probably obvious–you’re going to have to create a plan.
First, you want students to understand the important areas of your classroom–the laptop cart, your classroom library, the location of extra supplies, etc.
Secondly, you want them to understand the expectations for each of those areas of the classroom.
So, create a list of every important place in the classroom. Where will students turn in work? Are there areas of the classroom that students shouldn’t engage with? Is there an area that’s special to your classroom–like a costume rack in a theater classroom?
Make a quick list. Then, list all of the procedures and expectations that students need to know about these locations.
For example, if you have computers in your classroom, students might need to know not to eat or drink near them. They might need to learn their assigned computer number. You might want to highlight the important parts of your school’s technology policy.
Aim for at least ten places in your classroom that you’ll want students to identify. Remember, even the location of a pencil sharpener or an emergency escape route can be important places in your classroom!
Creating a High School Scavenger Hunt Step #2: Write Descriptions
Now that you know where students will go and what they will learn, it’s time to write it down.
In my Back-to-School Scavenger Hunt template, you can simply edit the labels to suit your classroom. But they don’t have to be fancy.
You can create a label for each area of your classroom and write a blurb about its expectations on a notecard or type and print them.
I recommend laminating these labels if you’ll be repeating this activity in the future.
Creating a High School Scavenger Hunt Step #3: Create Questions
Now it’s time to create the actual scavenger hunt. You don’t need to create complicated riddles to do this.
Instead, create one question for each of the areas in your classroom. The answer to these questions should be on the corresponding location’s label.
For example, I had a label for my classroom library. At the top of this label, it said “Classroom Library” very clearly. The question for this area I put on my students’ worksheet was, “Which area of the classroom is Ms. Heather’s favorite?”
In order to learn that the classroom library was my favorite place in the classroom, students will have had to find the classroom library label and read the entire description.
Another example is my room’s laptop cart. The question I included was, “What is your assigned computer number?” To find that, students will have had to read the laptop cart label and the roster with assigned computer numbers on it.
Once you have these questions, mix them up so students have to wander just a bit around the classroom.
Creating a High School Scavenger Hunt Step #4: Create an (Optional) Map of Your Classroom
This step is optional, but you can add a map to your scavenger hunt.
First, create a rough “map” of your classroom. I did this in PowerPoint. I created an 8.5” x 11” slide and just inserted shapes to represent my desk, students’ desks, and to show where doors and windows were.
This map does not need to be precise, detailed, or even to scale. It is helpful to label the door and the front of the room.
Then, for each place you want students to explore, create a numbered, blank line. For example, next to the rectangle that represents my classroom library, I’d type “1. _________.” The rectangle that represents my laptop cart might be labeled “2. ______________,” and so on.
If you choose to use a map, run copies with your questions so that the map is on one side and the questions are on the other.
As students complete the scavenger hunt, they should label the classroom map and answer the questions on the back.
Creating a High School Scavenger Hunt Step #5: Execution
Now comes the fun part–actually doing the scavenger hunt!
If you’d really like to earn some early-year bonus points with your students, get small prizes.
I liked to do small candies (like lollipops or bite-sized chocolate bars). I know food is problematic in many schools. You could do extra credit points, PBIS rewards, or even coupons for things like “first dibs on new classroom library books.”
If you know competition will motivate your students, you could offer prizes for just the first three students to finish first. However, especially at the beginning of the year, I want to reward all engagement and encourage students to move around. So I gave every student a reward for finishing.
As students walk around completing the activity, walk around and engage with your students.
I liked to hang out by my classroom library to ask students about their feelings about reading or find out their favorite genres. By the end of the first day of class, I usually know who my readers are and who will be more reluctant to read a book.
If your students tend to be a little pokey or you have short class times, go ahead and display a timer at the front of the room to encourage students to get the job done.
When all students are done, you can go over the worksheet. This is nice to just make sure students really understand your procedures and to answer any questions students might have.
With my FREE Back-to-School Scavenger Hunt, you can quickly create this scavenger hunt for your classroom–even if you waited until the night before.
When I began doing this activity during my first week of school, I began dreading the back-to-school season a lot less. It allowed me to engage with my students more, made my first week more interactive, and forced my students to acknowledge that, yes, they do actually know where to put their schoolwork when it’s finished.
Need more back-to-school activities? Check out these 5 back-to-school activities, especially if you’re teaching high school English. You might also enjoy these back-to-school teaching tips.