7 Ways to Get to Know Your English Classes

August brings a daunting task: learning the names, personalities, needs, dreams, and abilities of 120+ students as quickly as possible.

In addition, many of our schools expect us (teachers) to get benchmark assessments and quantify growth with data, writing samples, or other diagnostics, which makes learning more visible at the end of the year. But it's equally important to get student information that can't be easily quantified.

I'm using many of the following tools to get to know my students this fall. Some of them will take place in the first days/weeks of school, and others are meant to be used at any time in the year.

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#1: Diagnostic Tests

Easy-to-grade assessments can give you an early heads-up about students' starting points and where you may need to spend extra teaching time. One example is my grammar diagnostic test, which scatters song lyrics throughout the example sentences to keep students engaged in an otherwise-dry assessment.

Bonus: Google Forms is a great way to make your diagnostic a self-grading one! You can use Google Classroom's self-grading options, or just make a Google Form and grade it with the Flubaroo add-on.

(PS: You might like this blog post, "5 Diagnostics to Get to Know Your English Classes")

#2: Writing Samples
We need to know where our students stand as writers, BUT on a practical level, you never know when an administrator or intervention specialist might need you to provide a sample of a specific student's writing.

It can take a class period (or maybe less) to give a timed writing diagnostic, especially if you reassure students that this will not be graded and is just a get-to-know-you moment. (Make it fun with a prompt that will get students riled up!)

#3: Surveys & Check-Ups

Asking the right questions in your back-to-school survey is critical, but it's also helpful to follow up by checking on students throughout the year. Use this (free) check-up form to see how students are doing today.

#4: Informal Discussions
An alternative (or add-on) to surveys is using fun AND serious questions to have brief discussions. If you have a homeroom or want a conversation-starting bell-ringer for your first 30 days, try this paper chain of discussion prompts.

#5: Goal-Setting

Knowing what goals your students have - both academic and personal - can give you an early heads-up about where their motivations lie and how certain lessons or topics might go. But goal-setting is also one of the first, best forms of differentiation you can do in your year.

Try it on a small scale with (free) Goal-Setting Bingo, or make your own Bucket Lists and conduct credible research about what it would take to complete them.

#6: Fun Demonstrations
Sometimes it's best to resist the urge to pre-teach and just let students SHOW you what they are able to do as of this moment. That may be particularly true for public speaking.

My all-time favorite public speaking game is called 15 Minutes of Fame, in which students draw real-world scenarios and take on a character to imitate that kind of speech. It's an informal genre study as well.

#7: Book Talks

It's a win-win if students recommend books for each other AND you get a diagnostic public speaking assessment! Get more ideas here.

Next: Using the Data
Capitalize on the information you've gathered NOW by doing meaningful reflection on student growth at the END of the year. Get ideas in this blog post: How to Show Off Student Work at the End of the School Year

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