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Strategies for Getting to Know Your Students

new teachers

As you look over your class list, you might be wondering how in the world you'll get to personally know each student on it. Today, you'll learn some fun, easy, and effective strategies for getting acquainted with your students.

Importance of Knowing Your Students

Out of all the things you're responsible for as a new teacher, getting to know your students on a personal level is perhaps one of the most important. According to a Responsive Classroom interview with veteran educator and author Caltha Crowe, getting to know your students helps you identify their individual needs, teach them in the most beneficial ways possible, and establish a trusting relationship with each and every student. Let's take a look at some teacher-approved strategies that can help you achieve these goals in your classroom.

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Useful Strategies

Familiarize Yourself Before School Starts

One thing you can do is familiarize yourself with your students prior to the first day of school. You can do so by looking through students' school records and talking to their previous teachers. This can give you a glimpse at students' academic strengths and weaknesses as well as a heads-up to any personal issues they may have. Such research may also help you craft an introductory seating chart. Of course, researching students may not be totally feasible if you teach a very large number of students throughout the day (as in higher grade levels), but it can be helpful for lower grade levels where you're responsible for one group of students all day long.

Day One 'Web' Introductions

Use the first day (or first few days) of class as a starting point for student-teacher and student-student relationship building. Although there are several ways of going about this, one fun method is to have everyone gather in a circle, either in desks or sitting on the carpet. Holding a large ball of yarn, start the 'sharing web' by introducing yourself and sharing an interesting tidbit about your life. Then, hold on to the end of the ball of yarn and throw it to a student in the circle. Have them introduce and share something about themselves and then, still holding onto the yarn, throw it to another student. Repeat the process until each student has introduced themselves and a 'web' is formed with the yarn.

This activity helps demonstrate to your students that, even though everyone is different, they are all connected as a class. It also lets you get to know something about each of your students right away without prying.

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Give a Questionnaire

Another strategy for getting to know your students is to give a universal questionnaire during the first week of class. Have it ask simple questions that prompt students to actually think about their answers. Although questions may need to be adjusted for grade level, some examples include:

  • What is your full name?
  • When and where were you born?
  • Do you have a nickname?
  • Do you have any brothers or sisters?
  • What are your hobbies?
  • What is your favorite food?
  • What scares you about school?
  • What is your favorite subject and why?

Without digging too deep, these types of questions prompt answers that give you an idea of where kids stand in regards to their home life as well as how they feel about school. You can also take this strategy a step further by asking for a written response to the questionnaires or having a brief meeting with each student discussing their responses. This will show your students that you are genuinely interested in getting to know them individually and may help facilitate teacher-student relationships.

Be the Quiet Observer

According to Scholastic, simply observing students is a great, informal way to gain valuable information about them. For example, while students are working independently on an assignment, look for signs of frustration or boredom. Frustration may indicate that a student is struggling with the content, while boredom can be a sign that the content is too easy. This can help you differentiate instruction for your students and ensure that each is learning to their own individual capability.

Another method of observation is to look for is how students interact with their peers during group assignments or just in day-to-day classroom functions. This allows you to learn a lot about behaviors and personalities. For example, those with anger or hostility issues may need more one-on-one instruction or even interventions to help them get on the right track. Recess is also a good time to learn about students--who is the center of attention in a group and who tends to stand alone?

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Get Parents Involved

The last strategy we're going to discuss deals with getting parents involved. You can learn a lot about your students by interacting (even briefly) with their parents or guardians. In the beginning of the school year (or perhaps during orientation), give parents a short survey asking questions like:

  • What are your child's strengths and weaknesses?
  • What goals would you like your child to reach this school year?
  • Do you have any academic or behavioral concerns about your child?

The answers can provide you with valuable information that can help you get to know your students and maximize their learning potential throughout the year.

The Final Word

While all of these strategies can help you get to know your students, always remember that simply talking to each and every one of your students in a non-judgmental manner is the best way to learn new information and keep lines of communication open. For more advice on your endeavors as a new teacher, you may want to check out veteran teacher Julia G. Thompson's book, The First-Year Teacher's Survival Guide.

By Erin Riskey
January 2017
new teachers teacher tips & tricks

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