Wednesday, August 3, 2011

How Do You Get to Know Your Students Before School Starts?

What is the number one common characteristic of great teachers? They know their students.

Good teachers spend time at the beginning of the year learning as much as they can about their students in order to develop positive relationships and create an inclusive environment.

How do you get to know your students before they come to school the first day, so when they walk in your door you greet them with something like, "Hi Hannah, how is your dog Jasmine?" "So Sam, can you believe the home run that the Red Sox made during the last game?"

This is what I do. Very simple but very informative.

  1. Letters:  The third grade teachers take time at the end of the year to have their students write letters to their new 4th grade teachers. They ask them to include information about their favorite things, favorite subjects, what they hope 4th grade will be like and other tidbits about themselves, like how many siblings they have, what kind of person they are and what they like to do. Thank you 3rd grade teachers! I then reference the things that the students shared or asked when I write my summer Welcome to 4th Grade! letters.
  2. Student Pictures:  We use Power School for our student data. I create a student information table that includes the names of my new students and information about their interests, favorite books, abilities, school and social behaviors, any special needs they might have and their work habits. Next to their names, I paste their pictures, copied from Power School. I use this to memorize their names, faces, and tidbits about them.
  3. Anecdotal Notes from Last Year's Teachers:  At the end of the year, we meet with each 3rd grade teacher. They share the students' assessment data and talk about each student. I jot down notes in Word about each student. I then put that information in my student information table. I am cautious not to form preconceived ideas about the children, but to look at the notes holistically and objectively.
  4. Students Folders and Assessment Data:  I like the Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA) because not only does it show me the level of reading that a child is reading at,, but I also like to use the interest survey to note favorite topics and books. Other assessment data, like the Blue Ribbon assessment, writing prompts, and Dibels help me begin to identify strengths and weaknesses.
  5. Parent Letter to Me:  I enclose an assignment for the parents in the students' welcome letter. I ask them to tell me about their child in a million words or less. They can email it to me or send it in with their child the first weeks of school.
  6. Web2.0. I was thinking that I would like to have students share favorite things or write what they hope they learn on maybe a VoiceThread before school starts. I will set up accounts for them and send a postcard explaining how to share their ideas on the Voicethread.

What are some ways you get to know your students before the first day of school?

How have you used Web2.0 tools before school starts as a way for students to begin sharing and asking questions?

What other ideas do you have?


  1. I love the letter idea. As a Special Ed teacher, I always get my students to write an unaided letter to their new teacher. It gives the teacher an exact picture of where they are at in terms of their literacy skills and also gives them opportunity to tell the teacher what they would like them to know.
    When I did classroom teaching, I used to love getting kids to create a personal collage about themselves at the beginning of the year. I would create one about me too. I would then spend some time chatting with kids about their collages.

  2. Hello! And thank you for all of your wonderful ideas for starting out the school year. It's getting closer and closer! One thing I do to get to know my students before they arrive is I have them fill out a Google Form that I've created with the usual favorites questions, as well as other questions that are geared toward assessing their comfort level with technology. We are a Google Apps school, and in seventh grade I take full advantage of that!