4 Activities to Get to Know Students’ Expectations

Today, our guest blogger is Walton Burns from English Advantage. He’s sharing four activities that you can use to help learn your students’ expectations for your class. What a great twist to improve community in your classroom!

How often have you taken the time to learn your students' expectations for your class? Probably not very often! Teachers spend a great deal of time making their expectations for class clear for students, but it's just as beneficial--if not more so, in terms of community building--to hear what expectations your students have. Here are four ways to learn about them.

On the first day of school, teachers around the world to do an icebreaker and learn their students’ favorite color or where they went on summer vacation. That’s great, but there’s another level of information we want to learn about our students. As a teacher I like to tailor my class to my students’ interests but also to their needs and expectations. What kinds of activities do they like? How do they learn best? To what kind of teacher do they respond best? Where do they use the skills I teach them outside the classroom? What are they excited about learning? So, here are four of my favorite activities to learn my students’ expectations. These activities have the added benefit of being fun and working well as icebreakers or as class rapport.

Simple Surveys

One quick way to survey students is to list tasks and ask students to rate how hard they are. They can even note how often they do these tasks or star the ones that are most important in their lives. For English class I ask how about watching movies or talking about hobbies with friends. In a math class you could ask how often they use math when they measure and cook or when they keep track of their allowance.

To make it interactive, put students in pairs or small groups to discuss the answers. You can even turn this into a debate by having students share their needs; then, they can decide on three things they want to do in class to meet their common goals. Each group then shares their ideas, and the class votes on the top three.

Field Trip through the Book

Try to do this before students have started working with their textbooks. Alone or in pairs, have students flip through the book. Ask them to look for parts of the book that they find interesting, useful, or difficult. I like to ask them to find a page that looks particularly interesting, a skill that they think will help them outside of the classroom, a reading or unit that looks kind of boring, and a picture about which they are curious. If they work with a partner, they can discuss their choices and reasons.

This is a great introduction to the class and to the subject, as it tends to get students excited about the things they will learn. It also gives them a feeling of ownership of the book. Rather than it being something the teacher tells them to open and close, it becomes something with which they engage. This activity can also be used with students of every level, as younger students can focus on pictures, and older students can react to passages or charts.

Good Classroom Habit Role-Plays

Many of us have seen or done a bad student role-play. The teacher pretends to be a bad student and does all sorts of disruptive things in class. But why not focus on the positive and have students act out all the things a classroom should be?

This can be done in a lot of ways. My favorite is to ask students to get into pairs or small groups and assign them an area, such as classroom behavior or studying for tests. Then, I ask them to think of one habit of a good student in that area and to make a short skit or role-play demonstrating the habit and its benefits. These can be as general as, “Study every day” or as specific as, “Use flashcards to memorize vocabulary.”

Since our classrooms often seem to feature us telling students what they did wrong, they really appreciate the chance to show off some of the things they do well.

Complete the Sentence Survey

Finally, a great fun and effective way to evaluate students’ interests and expectations is to do a complete-the-sentence survey. Before class think of 4-7 open-ended sentences for students to complete that will give you some idea of the students’ goals or expectations. Some sentences that have worked for me in the past include: “I like classes where we do _____,” “I think _____ is hard,” and “I often have to do _____ in English.”

Hand out the questions in class as a short survey. When students have filled them out with their own ideas, put them in pairs to explain their answers. Talking to another person often helps them clarify what they meant. Then ask each student to share one of their sentences with the class. Be sure to collect the surveys and look at them at home.

It’s also fun to let the students question you about your expectations. Let them think of sentences for you to answer, or you can prompt them. Some good sentences to feed them with include, “I give high grades to students who _____,” “One way to study well is _____,” or “I give homework because _____.”

Get to Know Them on a Whole New Level

These kinds of evaluation activities help us get to know our students on a whole new level. It will make our classes better places. It will help us become the teachers from whom our students love to learn. And, most importantly, students will respect your work to learn about them.


Walton BurnsWalton Burns is a teacher and award-winning materials writer from Connecticut who began his career teaching in the Peace Corps in the South Pacific. Since then he has taught around the world. As a writer he has been on the author team of two textbooks and written lesson plans and activities for private language schools. His latest book is 50 Activities for the First Day of SchoolFor more information, including projects he has worked on, check out his blog and his Teachers Pay Teachers store.

getting to know you first day of school activities

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