FAQs for the First Days of School

Find answers to some of the most common concerns for the start of a new school year. This article for teachers includes advice on what to wear, what to say, how to assign seats, and how to learn students' names.
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How Can You Learn the Students' Names?

There is no greater compliment to a student than calling him or her by name at the end of the first day. It requires concentration and extra effort but it can be done. Always check the pronunciation with the student. All kids should have the option of going by a nickname or shortened version they prefer. Teachers suggest some tried-and-true methods that will work for you, too, and even by lunchtime dismissal on the first day, you can wish each child a good meal using his or her name. Here are some suggestions:
  • One teacher associates the names with faces from photos. Individual photos taken at the time of the class picture, are often attached to the permanent record cards. Take time to make the name-face association before school starts. Children will be shocked and pleased to be recognized.
  • You can borrow a Polaroid-type or digital camera and take instant pictures of the students, table by table or individually. Writing the names below the faces will help you remember who's who. Once the photos have served their purpose as memory aids, you can use them to create a lovely welcome bulletin board.
  • Name tags and name plates are very popular aids for learning names. Teachers place them on desks or on the front of desks, pin them on young children's clothing, or string them around primary youngsters' necks (upside down so children can read them when they look down). You can have older children make their own and decorate them.
  • After kids have chosen or have been assigned to seats, one of the most useful devices for learning their names is the seating chart. You can get a jump on the process by having the blank chart or map ready to go. The names just have to be filled in when you take attendance or look at the name tags. This is the preferred method in middle and high school.
  • Some teachers learn the names through simple interaction or games like the ones that follow.

  • Primary Grades, K-1
    The teacher holds up name cards, and the children recognize their names, retrieve the cards, and place them in the designated spot. The teacher can call the names as well at the beginning, but should encourage recognition solely by visual cues early in the year. The child then says his or her name and one thing about a favorite toy, pet, food, or television program.
    Intermediate Grades, 2-3
    Students introduce themselves to the class. They can be given some guidelines and time constraints:
  • Tell us your name.
  • Tell us something about your family or your pets.
  • What do you do after school?
  • What are your favorite television programs?
    Note: Students can be given a three-minute egg timer to hold to remind them they can talk under but not over the limit. This places the responsibility for self-monitoring with them and makes it unnecessary for you to interrupt or stop them.
  • Review alphabetical order by having children come up in small groups and alphabetize themselves, using their tags or cards.

  • Upper Grades, 4-6
    Children can interview a partner, following a set of guidelines, and then introduce the partner to the rest of the class. Guidelines can be duplicated, or children can make up the interview questions with you and the outline can be written on the chalkboard. Some suggested guidelines follow:
  • partner's favorite subject in school
  • partner's least favorite subject
  • partner's favorite kind of stories
  • partner's pets
  • partner's favorite sports, hobbies
  • partner's favorite television program
  • language(s) spoken at home

  • Children enjoy playing the scavenger hunt/Bingo game that requires that they find someone in the class who corresponds to a description on a prewritten sheet of paper.

    Probably the best way to help children learn each other's names is to practice the name game. Each person introduces all the others preceding, going around the room or up and down the rows in this manner:
    MARIA: I'm Maria.
    JASON: This is Maria; I'm Jason.
    PABLO: This is Maria, Jason; I'm Pablo.
    RYAN: This is Maria, Jason, Pablo; I'm Ryan.
    ELENA: This is Maria, Jason, Pablo, Ryan; I'm Elena.
    JULIO: This is Maria, Jason, Pablo, Ryan, Elena; I'm Julio.
    This technique also works very well with adults. Not only does the systematic repetition enable me to learn the names of 25 students in a few minutes, but it also allows everyone else in class to do the same. No name tags are needed for this one!

    Use any of the aforementioned introductory devices or use the bingo card that is suggested by some middle school teachers. The students get signatures for each space, and the first student to fill all the spaces gets a small prize. Another simple introductory activity is having the students describe themselves to the class using only three adjectives. The Kottlers (1998) suggest that secondary students get into small groups and reach consensus on one favorite for each of these suggested topics: music group, food, movie, TV program, and so on.

    *Check out TeacherVision's Getting to Know Your Students feature and Icebreakers - a downloadable, printable book.
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