First Day Activity

I really enjoyed today’s “First Day” activity in Precalculus. I found the idea on Becky Lyon’s blog; you can also find her on Twitter: @rhlyon.

I had the students find someone to work with and told them one member of the pair would be the Explainer and the other would be the Grapher. The Explainer was supposed to sit facing the projector screen, while the Grapher was supposed to sit facing the door (i.e., away from the projector where they could not see it at all).

The idea of the activity is this:

  1. Display a picture or graph on the projector screen for about one minute.
  2. The Explainer has to describe the graph only using words — no hand gestures allowed!
  3. The Grapher tries to re-create the picture or graph from the description.

The pictures I used started out easy (a giant smiley face) and got progressively more difficult. To give you an idea, I uploaded the exact graphs I used to my public Dropbox space: It’s After we were done, we went through the graphs together and talked about what descriptions had been given and what people could have said to make it easier.

This gave us a great opportunity to review vocabulary like “degree” and “vertex” and “parabola” and “quadratic” and “intercept” and “slope” and “local maximum [versus global maximum]”. It also gave me feedback as to what the “groupthink” occurred and at what level my students are starting. (For instance, some of them volunteered the idea that an even-degree root of a polynomial behaves differently on a graph than an odd-degree root!)

They seemed to enjoy the activity. It helped cement for them that I will expect them to do things in class, not just be. And, happily, it gave them the opportunity to practice my Friendship Policy.

My three favorite comments from today include:

  • This will be the most FUN class!” –a student said to her friend, at the end of class
  • An e-mail I received after class said, “What a great first day of class! Super exciting and thank you for your approach!
  • A fantastic Tweet (admittedly from a calculus, not precalculus, student):


17 thoughts on “First Day Activity

  1. That is part of the reason I do ‘group quizzes’ in class, where they can use their classmates and notes to work a quiz. It gets them talking to each other early on, and therefore willing to talk to each other outside of class.

  2. Hi Kate, I used this activity today with my IB sophomore trig/math analysis class, and it was fantastic! Thanks so much for sharing it!

  3. Hi Kate, I hope you are doing well. I just wanted to let you know that I used this activity this semester on our first day (both in Calc I and a precalc/non-major sort of class) and it was really great! I think the students actually liked it, plus it made me feel much better that we were doing something both ice-breaker-y and something that relates to course objectives. Thank you so much for sharing your ideas!

  4. I came across this activity on a search for 1st day of school Pre-Calc activities. I had been contemplating what I was going to do in Pre-Calc the first day and I think this will work out great! I wanted to find an activity that was higher-level math related, but still “fun.” I especially appreciate that you included the graphs. Thank you so much for this activity!

  5. This sounds like a great activity for the first day. I will give it a try when our classes begin on Tuesday, PreCalculus class. Thank you for posting.

  6. This activity was the perfect starter for my precalc class this year. I’m heading right into transformations and this was a fun way to get them talking about what they know already without the formal notes or formative assessment to do so. Thanks so much for sharing!

  7. Good afternoon Kate. I was looking for a 1st day activity to use with my Honors Pre-Calculus class and came upon your entry. I tried to log onto the Dropbox address attached and it failed. Is there any way you could email this to me?

    Thank you,


  8. Hi Kate,

    I’m teaching Pre-Calculus next year and would love to use this fun activity. However, I have trouble opening the file. Is there a way you could email it to me?


    • Hi Toni,

      Unfortunately I haven’t been able to track down this file. I’ll let you know if I find it. I am sorry! :O


  9. I’m looking for the graphs as well and I simply get a link that says they are no longer available. If there any way I can get them?

    • Hi Erin,

      Unfortunately I haven’t been able to track down this file. I’ll let you know if I find it. I am sorry! :O


  10. I am so so so excited to use this activity for my first day of classes (PreCal, Stats and AP Stats)! I’ve been looking for something like this for several years to get my Juniors and Seniors excited about class, and how working collaboratively using common language will benefit their learning and understanding of what can be a complex course. I do have one thing that I need help with – I cannot get the pictures that you used – when click the link, it give me an error. Do I have to sign up for a free DropBox account to see them? Any help would be great, so that I can at least see what the progression of pictures from easy to difficult could be.

    Cindy Tindall, McDonogh School (Baltimore, MD)

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