Using Surveys to Get to Know Your Students

Kari PitstickBlog, Connect Better, Engage Better, Lead Better


  • Using a survey to get to know students in the first weeks of school.
  • Partnering with parents through the use of a survey.

No matter what the beginning of the school year looks like, one thing is certain: we need to make a plan to get to know our students. Getting to know our students in the first weeks of school creates a strong foundation for the remainder of the year.

During the first weeks of school, I utilize many different strategies to get to know my students. Since we are unsure right now exactly how we will be getting to know our students this year—in person or virtually—I started to think about how I can prepare to do this in either setting. I have found using surveys/a questionnaire for getting to know students very beneficial, and a strategy that can be adapted for in-person or virtual learning.

We continuously get to know our students better throughout the school year, but we must intentionally take time for this in the first weeks of school. Click To Tweet

Using a Survey

No matter if we will be getting to know our students in-person or virtually, it is crucial that we take time at the start of the year to simply get to know our students—as learners in our content area and as people. We continuously get to know our students better throughout the school year, but we must intentionally take time for this in the first weeks of school.

One of the strategies I have found beneficial in the first week, among so many others, is giving a survey to students. I prefer to give the survey on paper, because seeing a student’s authentic (hand)writing can give just a little insight into them as a student. However, since the structure of the beginning of the year is still unknown, this survey could be adapted on an online platform such as Google Forms.

Prompts for the Survey

Below are prompts that could be included on a beginning of the year survey to get to know your students.

  • Nickname (I have found this incredibly helpful. When taking attendance on the first day, I ask students if they have a preferred name other than what is on the roster. But they don’t always share it at that time.)
  • Favorite school subject.
  • What do you do in your spare time?
  • What kind of music do you like? Do you have any favorite artists or bands?
  • Do you have a favorite TV show or movie?
  • How many siblings do you have? Are you the oldest, middle, or youngest?
  • What is a typical day like for you after school? Describe any responsibilities you have outside of school.
  • What is your greatest accomplishment?
  • Describe or draw with captions the setting in which you work/learn the best (working independently vs. with a partner/group; bright vs. dim lighting; standing vs. sitting; music vs. no music, etc.).
  • Describe yourself in 3 words.
  • What can I do to help you be successful in (insert your content area here)?
  • What can I do to help you here at (insert school name), in general?
  • Is there anything else you’d like me to know about you?

In the past, I have found that students might be hesitant to put anything personal on their survey. It is only later, once we get to know each other better and they have established trust in me, that they are willing to open up with something personal they could have put on the survey. Regardless, I include the section for students to share anything about themselves, as I’d rather offer the opportunity even if they forgo sharing.

Using the Survey to Guide Decisions

Once I’ve collected the surveys that first week, I go through them briefly. Because I haven’t put everyone’s faces with their names at this point, I check for anything that needs my immediate attention. This helps set the stage for getting to know students and discovering the makeup of different personalities in each class.

I don’t go home and study their surveys, but I do make a note to go through them again at a later time. Once I know all of their names and faces, I go through the surveys again—usually a few weeks later—more carefully.

The surveys can be a great tool to reference throughout the year. They can be used to incorporate students’ interests into your lessons. You could use the surveys to differentiate and ensure lessons align with their unique learning preferences. Perhaps you need to try a new approach with a student…there might just be something on their survey that can be used to your advantage.

Partnering with Parents

Parents can also be a huge resource as we are trying to get to know our students. On a Google Form (survey linked here), I first ask them to include their name, their student’s name, and their relationship to the student. Below are the prompts that I include on my parent survey:

  • From your perspective, how would you rate your student’s feelings about reading? (Option to select from range 1-5)
  • From your perspective, how would you rate your student’s feelings about writing? (Option to select from range 1-5)
  • What would you like me to know about your student as we begin this year?

This is a great way to open the doors of communication with your students’ parents from the very start of the year.

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Make Your Plan

We are truly getting to know our students every day of the whole year. Survey or not, spending time with your students each day (even virtually) and talking to them about things beyond the content will help you get to know them best. It truly just comes with time.

I use other surveys to gain an understanding about students’ attitudes towards reading and writing. These surveys are all just a small part of getting to know your students in the first week of school.

Before school starts this year, no matter what it may look like for your school or district, make your plan for how you will get to know your students. Whatever you decide to do, it will be great because you will be learning about your new students, and they will see that you care!

About Kari Pitstick

Kari Pitstick is a 7th grade English Language Arts teacher and athletic coach in Illinois. She is the Digital Content Editor for the Teach Better Team. She graduated from Illinois State University in 2015 with a bachelor’s in Middle Level Education, and American College of Education in 2018 with a master’s in Curriculum & Instruction.

Kari has known she wanted to teach at the middle level since she was in middle school herself. One of her main missions is to provide a safe and friendly environment for students to explore their passions as learners and as people.