Getting to know you: Activities for young students

Let's see — how many Justins and Madisons are on this class list? The school year is ready to start, and you're faced with a list of new names and the yearly challenge of putting new names with faces and getting to know your group of students. It's important to get a clear understanding of who your new students are and who and what are important to them. That knowledge might just give you the background to understand some of their academic strengths and weaknesses. It might also help you to appreciate a bit of their home life in advance and to nip potential problems in the bud.

Here you will find some ideas that I have gleaned from all over — from the very simple to the more comprehensive. Teaching is all about borrowing ideas, and I would give credit if I remembered where or from whom they originally came (some ideas actually are mine), but now these suggestions are yours too. Each idea can give you some insight into who that new eager face is when September rolls around. You can make these activities simple fill-ins that you can print and hand out to your students, or you can create a template that students can fill in by using the computer.

In this article

Crystal ball

Looking for an activity that is not going to overwhelm new students? This one is good for a "get set" activity as students walk in the first day. If you mail home a summer welcome and supply-list letter, you can also include this activity as the first homework assignment.

You can use the "crystal ball" to not only see what's on your students' minds but also to get an overview of their writing and drawing skills, their dexterity, and their ability to follow simple directions.

Give students a drawing with a diagram of a large circle that has an elaborate pedestal base. Title the drawing "The Crystal Ball." This one-dimensional crystal ball can have a lead paragraph such as:

  • What are you eager to do during the coming school year?
  • Do you want to learn to play soccer?
  • Do you want to learn to write in cursive?
  • In the crystal ball below, draw or write what you're looking forward to for this school year.

One of the great things about this activity is that it gives each of your writers and artists a chance to feel comfortable and even to shine through their crystal ball predictions. Encourage your students to use labels, colored pencils, and descriptive sentences to fill the ball with everything that's on their mind.

Collect everyone's crystal ball drawings, and keep them until the end of the year. Redistribute them to the students at that time and have a discussion with them to see whether or not they met some of their goals.

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Taking the class census

You can use this activity to learn detailed information about your students and to plan potential activities for the school year.

Ask your students if they know what a census is. Explain that it is a count of all the people who live in one country. In the United States, the government takes a census every ten years. Citizens are asked to fill out a form that has many questions on it. The citizens' answers are tallied up to help the government set up programs that will benefit the people of the United States.

Distribute a "census form" to your students. Tell them that the information they put in the census form will help you plan for a great school year. The form should include such questions as:

  • Student's name
  • Date of birth
  • How many people are in your family?
  • What are their names?
  • What pets do you have at home?
  • What subject do you like best in school? (check one) __ reading __ math __ spelling __ social studies.
  • What are your hobbies or favorite activities?
  • What sports do you like most?
  • What is your favorite food?
  • What is your favorite book?
  • What TV shows do you like to watch?
  • Who are your best friends?
  • If you had $100, what would you do with it?

Each day, select one questionnaire and read it to the class, without reading the name of the student. See if they can guess which classmate filled it out.

As with a real census, tally up the responses and address the findings. You can also create charts and graphs by using Microsoft Office Excel 2003. For example, if a large number of students like a certain food you could have a group of parents serve it at a class party. You can also use the information as a fun way to create student groups, to assign seats, and to select students for classroom jobs. For example, the first time you change your seating chart consider putting all of the kids with cats together, all of the kids with dogs together, and all of the kids with no pets together.

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My profile

This is a simple activity in which the students fill in the blanks, and you learn more about them. On a piece of paper, draw a simple profile (forehead, nose, mouth, and chin).

Have your students put the following information inside the profile:

  • Name
  • Color of eyes
  • Color of hair
  • Favorite time of day
  • Favorite color
  • Favorite sport
  • Favorite subject
  • Something I did that I'm proud of
  • Birthplace
  • Something that makes me laugh
  • Favorite food
  • Favorite animal
  • Favorite song
  • Favorite TV show

You can post the profiles in the classroom or create a display in the hall along with the students' real photos. For another variation, you can use drawing software or the overhead projector to sketch the students' actual profiles instead of the generic one.

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All about me

Your students can do this activity to let you know in what areas they might need help. The entire activity might take two partial days to complete.

  1. Take a digital or standard photo of each student on the first day of school while they sit at their desks.
  2. Distribute a large (12" × 16") sheet of drawing paper to each student and have them fold the paper in half in each direction to divide the sheet into fourths. Then have them draw a line on top of each fold line.
  3. The students then need to draw a diagonal line through the center of each section to divide the fourth in half. Students should end up with a paper divided into eighths that looks similar to a British flag.
  4. Print the students' photos, and have the students paste them onto the center of their drawing paper where the eight lines cross.
  5. Have the students label each section with a different heading. Headings might include:
    • Something I do well
    • Something I might need help with
    • My favorite subject is
    • My favorite activity is
    • Something I'm proud of
    • My family
    • My best memory of last year
    • What I am looking forward to this year

Have the students draw pictures in the different sections by using colored pencils or fine-tipped markers. You can post the profiles in the hall, or you can even bind them into a book that you can send home individually with the students or a book that you can place on a table outside your room during conferences. Parents will really enjoy getting to know the class by looking at all of the profiles.

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Human scavenger hunt

Often when students walk in to their new classroom, they are trying to put on their best face for you. As a teacher, it's extremely valuable to watch students interact with their peers. You can learn who is self-confident or who needs to be encouraged to reach out and participate with classmates. While the students carry out this scavenger hunt activity, you can circulate among your students and listen to their conversations; you can take also notes or even participate.

Divide a sheet of paper into twenty-five sections, like a grid. Write a different description in each section of the grid. When the class session begins, hand each student a copy of the grid and tell them they're going on a human scavenger hunt. Give the students only two rules:

  1. You must find 25 different people who match the descriptions and have them sign their name in the appropriate box.
  2. Do not start until the teacher says, "Go!"

For another variation of this activity, your class can interact with another class or with all of the classes in your grade level. Conduct the activity outside on the playground or in another large area. If you interact with another class, add another rule: Only five of the people can be from your own class.

For the descriptions on the grid, you can select any 25 topics, but here is a list of possibilities; insert a blank line before each phrase where the student who matches the description can sign their name:

  • read for at least 15 minutes yesterday.
  • has a pet with a five-letter name.
  • has a phone number with two digits that are the same.
  • has a brother or sister under three years old.
  • has a pet that weighs at least 10 pounds.
  • has a relative that lives in another country.
  • has a birthday on the first or last day of a month.
  • has over 20 letters in his or her entire name.
  • loves to cook.
  • has visited at least ten other states.
  • has a house with at least 20 doors (including closets).
  • has a favorite color that isn't blue, green, or red.
  • lives on a street that's named after a tree, flower, or other plant.
  • read over 10 books this summer.
  • celebrated his or her birthday less than five days ago.
  • was born in a month that has at least six letters.
  • has a brother or sister who is at least 14 years old.
  • is wearing an outfit that has at least six different colors on it.
  • watched less than an hour of television last night.
  • has lived in this state less than one year.
  • has a brother or sister who also goes to this school.
  • plays on more than one sports team.
  • was born on a Saturday.
  • lives less than one mile from school.
  • favorite subject is math.

The topics themselves are not important, as the idea is to get the students moving about talking to all of the other kids in the classroom. Be creative and add your own topics!

Use clipboards if you have them available. Do a quick tally back in class to see who had the most entries. Offer a prize or even hearty congratulations for the student who collects the most names.

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All about me — a PowerPoint presentation

You can do this project with elementary students who are slightly older or who have some technology experience. Conducting this activity will provide you with a window into the students' technology and communication skills.

Start by gathering a selection of name books. The public library usually has a good selection of baby names and their meanings. Have students look up their names in the books to find out what their names mean or where they originated. Are they named after someone in their family? After the students find the information about their names, have them create a Microsoft Office PowerPoint® 2003 presentation that has five slides.

  • The first slide contains an introduction with the student's photo (you could use the digital photo that you took on the first day of school), each student's name, and what the name means.
  • The second slide can introduce their family.
  • The third slide can describe something they're proud of.
  • The fourth slide can list some things that they would like to learn during the coming school year.
  • The fifth slide can list their goals.

This PowerPoint presentation is an engaging tool and something that you can have up and running during open house or have set up to run on a continuous loop outside your classroom during conferences. The presentation can be as simple or advanced as you want. Students can work with backgrounds, clip art, slide transitions, and even animations if they and you are comfortable with these features. This activity might also serve as a longer "lead-in" to a PowerPoint presentation of the students' entire school year titled "What I learned in 4th grade."

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It's all about sharing your enthusiasm

Getting to know your students from the first moment they walk into your classroom can be a fun activity for you and for every student. With a little imagination and enthusiasm, you can soon have your students wanting to share information about themselves with you and with their fellow classmates.

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More information

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Applies to:
Excel 2003, PowerPoint 2003, Word 2003