Creating Class Culture

5 Ways to Get to Know Your Students in the Secondary English Classroom

The first day of school always brings excitement and nervousness for myself and my new students. It can be scary facing a new situation for everyone (especially now during Covid). So it’s important to helps students get to know each other and create a welcoming class environment, from the very first day. Here are some ways for you and your students to get to know your students.

*if ELearning, try doing some of these through synchronous (video) lessons, shared docs or as a video upload.

Want a google slides filled with 15 get to know you activities click on this link.

Teach high school and looking for first week activities and a template to use for lessons, click kn this link.

Student questionnaires

I have my students fill in a student questionnaire within the first few days, so that I have a more in-depth idea of who they are and where there may be areas of concern.

Here is a copy of my “First Day of School Student Profile and Questionnaire” (free pdf & google slides with text boxes) handout.

I do multiple surveys throughout the year to get to know my students, for example as an English teacher I want to learn about (and help students develop) their reading and writing identity (see these examples from Pernille Ripp).

Letter to your future self

Since I teach struggling writers, getting them immersed in writing is always difficult. I need to access their writing skills as soon as possible, but I don’t want them to become disengaged on the first day, so I have students write a letter to their future selves It involves delving into an analysis of who they are today.  Since most of my students are in grade 9 or 10 they will change quite a bit by the end of the semester.

I will read the letters to get a feel for their writing ability but give them back at the end of the semester so they can read them and recognize their own growth.  I encourage them to keep them and read them again on graduation day.

I really love how excited they get about the activity. Some of them are disappointed when the bell rings and they haven’t finished. Despite the fact that I tell students they can continue to write their letters on day two, some of them still ask to take their letters home to work on, while others say they want to think about what to they will write overnight. This is a google docs copy of the letter.

Name plate

If you are like me and find it hard to remember everyone’s names, or you call them by the wrong name and it sticks, a name plate can be very helpful.

You can give students a piece of paper, have them fold it in half and write their names on it (try to use markers so you can see them from across the room).

Or you can use them as a vehicle for introducing themselves to each other and the class. I have them add in details about themselves such as their favourite hobby, book, quote etc. They do a mini presentation to the class and use the name plate as a visual in their presentation.

Sudents will use these until I know their names. They bring them to class everyday, hand them in, or place them in their portfolios.

I find saying their name when addressing them really helps solidify it in my memory. Although you can look down at a seating plan to do this the nameplate can be used to decorate the classroom once you know everyone’s names. I will later use them as a boarder on the class bulletin board.

Play a game

Students love to try and fool their teachers and classmates. To exploit this, we play two truths and a lie.

I model how to do it. The kids love that I’m trying to trick them and they see that I don’t expect them to do anything that I wouldn’t do myself.

I have each student introduce themselves and tell the class two things about themselves that are true and one that is a lie. The class tries to guess which statement is the lie.

It’s amazing what you can learn about the students based on what they decide to share.

Share Favourites:

Encourage Book Love

Have students share their love of reading by sharing their favourite book through a book talk (see my book talk includes an oral presentation and a book ad visual).

You can have them all present over a couple of days or just one or two at the beginning of class, over a longer period of time.

Have the other students add the books that they are interested in reading to their “To Read Next List.”

Create and share top ten lists

“Top Ten” is a popular method for sharing information. Have students write about and share their own “top ten things to know about me” lists or “my top ten list of essentials” (see New York Times My Ten for examples).

Thanks for reading. Feel free to share what activities you use to get to know your students in the comments below.

Interested in other secondary ELA activities, see:

Give One Get One: Idea Generating & Discussion Activity

Choice Novel Speed Dating in your Secondary ELA Classroom

Accountable Talk in the English Classroom: Fishbowl Discussions