You’ve probably heard that expression that goes something like “you only get one chance to make a good first impression”. The first impression, that’s what concerns me about the first day of school. I want, no make that I need my students’ first impression of me and my classroom to be a positive one because I know that if for some reason things don’t get off to a good start it’s going to be an uphill battle for a long time.
As a Special Education teacher, I teach students who need extra support in some way or another to help them be as successful as they can be. Some of my students are so disconnected from teachers and school that they are at-risk of failing classes and even dropping out all together. I certainly don’t want that to happen ,so I need to engage these kids right from the first bell.

What do I do to try to make a good impression on the first day? You know part of me thinks it’s amazing that I’m even talking about the teacher making a good first impression. That part of me is thinking isn’t making a good impression something the student needs to be concerned with? The other part of me realizes that of course times have changed since the days back when, and I know from experience that it is important to set the right tone on the first day. I’ve had kids come and tell me they hate their teachers after just one class. There’s that first impression. We all do it. We make our first impression within seconds of meeting someone. Well maybe it’s longer than a few seconds. Don’t quote me on that one. I do remember reading some statistic about the length of time it takes us to make a first impression , but I’ve forgotten exactly how long that was but was an astonishing short amount of time. Maybe someone can remind me.

Now my challenge is that the students who come to my math class on the first day are specifically placed in my class because they haven’t enjoyed very much success in math thus far. Most of them come hating math and hating my class because , as so many of them keep telling me , it’s a class for losers. So you can appreciate why I’m a bit concerned about making a positive impression on the first day. If they already hate math, and if if they already hate the idea of coming to my class because they perceive it as a class for losers , if they decide to hate me too how much am I going to be able to teach them? How much are they going to be able to learn?

So, what do I do the first day of class. Well, for one thing I want them to leave that first class respecting me. How do I do that? Demonstrating competence never hurts. So I’ll start by be organized. Me, being organized is so crucial on the first day because the first day of school is so confusing for my students, especially the grade nines who are new to the school. Oh sure, they have been to orientation activities but still their heads will be spinning. Since they probably won’t be organized, I’ll have to be organized for them. I’ll have extra supplies for them to use. I’ll have an outline on the board of what we are going to be doing for that class, and I’ll greet them at the door and welcome them and introduce myself. That sets the stage.

One of things I ‘ll do that first class is get to know my students better by having them answer nine questions about themselves. I tell them that I would really appreciate it if they could answer some questions about themselves because their answers will help me plan the lessons and the activities we’ll do in class. I really do use their answers. The questions are

1. When have you felt particularly successful in school?

2. When have you been the most proud of learning something?

3. What is the easiest part of school?

I ask these questions first because I want the first thing they write for me to be about something positive. I want them to remember that they have been successful at something in the past because I want them to be open to being successful in the future in my class. Remember these kids think of themselves as “losers’. I want them to remember they have been winners.

Then I go on to ask about challenges they have at school because the sooner I know about the challenges, the sooner I can teach kids strategies and give them support so that they can help themselves cope with whatever. So I ask

4. What is the hardest part of school?

Next, I get subject specific. When I teach a math class, I ask about math. When I teach a literacy class, I ask about reading and writing. so because I’m teaching math the questions are

5. What do you like about math?

6. When is math easy or fun for you?

7. When is math difficult for you?

Believe me, the kids like having the opportunity to tell me what they like and don’t like about the subject.

Then, I go on to ask the following questions. I want my students to realize that we are a team. We each have our part to do in the learning that goes on in class. I need to know what I can do to help my students be more successful, and my students need to know what they can do to help themselves be more successful. These questions focus on the team aspect of the student/teacher relationship , and I discuss this with them.

8. What three things can I as the teacher do to help you become more successful as a student in this class?
9. What three things can you do as a student to help yourself be more successful this year?

Usually I get good cooperation. Sometimes, not often, a student will answer all questions in a negative way. That, in itself speaks volumes about that kid, and I respect his answers, and I don’t ask him to change them to positive ones. At the end of the semester, I’lll have the kids answer these questions again, and we’ll discuss the second set of answers vis-a-vis the first set of answers.

After completing this activity, I’ll tell my students that since they are in grade nine, by now, they are experts at knowing what makes a classroom work so that it is respectful and learning can go on. Given this, I want us to come up with some rules for the classroom that are stated in a positive way. For example, “come to class on time” and not “don’t be late for class”. Once we have decided on the rules for the classroom , we’ll create posters and post them around the room to remind us of what we need to do. The posters in the classroom are like the signs along the highway. They tell us what the appropriate thing to do is. In my last post , I talked about my theory about rules for the classroom. I don’t want to repeat myself here.

I just want to say in closing that I hope by the end of the first class the students realize the following:

1. The students and I are a team.

2. They have their job to do.

3. I have my job to do.

4. Certain behaviours are conducive to learning and these are to be encouraged.

5. Certain behavior in the classroom are not conducive to learning and these are to be discouraged.

6. Their input is valued.

At least the way I see it.

At this point I’d like to thank Mathew, Sarah, Tracy, Emily, Peggy, and Ron for their insightful comments about my last post Nine things my students taught me about classroom management and teaching. Please keep those comments coming. It’s important to hear other points of view on a topic, not just mine. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me. I’m not always right. I’m open to other points of view. So please, don’t hesitate to make a comment. Discussion is healthy. I’d also like to thank three feet up and the podsafe music network for my theme music.

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61 Responses to “Nine questions I ask my students on the first day of school”

  1. Mathew on August 31st, 2007 12:05 am

    I think you’ve come up with questions that not a lot of teachers ask, that value the whole child, and that reflect your respect for your students.

  2. Cathy on September 2nd, 2007 9:13 am

    Thank you so much! I am a special ed teacher who usually does in-class support, but is teaching replacement math this year for the first time. Good questions!

  3. Elona on September 2nd, 2007 9:28 am

    You’re welcome, Cathy. I hope the questions are useful.

  4. Sukhdeep on September 2nd, 2007 11:02 pm


    I have been reading your site for some time, but am a first-time poster. I am also a new teacher; I graduated a couple of years ago, did youth work and picked up an AQ, and on Tuesday I am starting my first teaching job. I tell you that because starting this new job brings with it excitement and hope and all of those good things, but also a serious case of the “eeeeeks!” and reading this incredibly insightful, helpful, and hopeful article makes me feel so much better (i.e., the “eeeeeks” are subsiding).

    I will be teaching Gr. 10 Special Ed English and Gr. 10 GLE, and will check in to your site often for your thoughts, ideas, and for the online community you have created.

    Thank you for doing what you do,

  5. Elona on September 3rd, 2007 6:10 am

    Your so welcome, Sukhdeep. To be honest, school starts tomorrow, and I have a case of the “eeeeeks” too. I know everything will be OK so why the eeeeeks? I guess it’s the unknown-a bit scary, but exciting. I love it!

  6. Rosemary B. on January 5th, 2008 4:33 pm

    I enjoyed your information. I hope to share it with other teachers. Thanks.

  7. Elona Hartjes on January 5th, 2008 6:18 pm

    I’m delighted that you enjoyed the information in this post; and yes, please do share it and even add to the questions we could ask our students.

  8. Sarah on August 26th, 2008 9:20 pm

    Hi Rosemary,

    I forget how I came across your blog in my search for ideas, but I’m glad I did. I ended up tossing them in a Powerpoint at the last minute when my plan fell through. (Schedules too up in the air.)

    Is it okay for me to share the Powerpoint at the First Day Wiki? (Linking back here, of course.)

  9. Elona Hartjes on August 26th, 2008 10:40 pm

    Keep sharing.

  10. cal on September 1st, 2008 6:39 pm

    I love your questions – I would perhaps reword question 8 + 9:
    8. What three things can I as the teacher do to make learning easier for you in this class?

    I would reword to say:
    8. What three things can I as the teacher do to help you become more successful as a student in this class?
    9. What three things can you do as a student to help yourself be more successful this year?

    I think the word “easier” is maybe confusing….I like successful because it sounds more empowering to me…..

  11. Elona Hartjes on September 1st, 2008 6:50 pm

    I like your version of my questions. Thanks.

  12. O.J. on September 4th, 2008 12:48 pm

    I like the questions you came up with as they could be hepful to any teacher. I am a new teacher. I am starting next week and I will teach 11th and 12th graders.
    Thanks a lot.

  13. Elaheh on September 23rd, 2008 1:22 pm

    Dear Elona,
    Itwas really helpful thank you.

  14. ben on October 20th, 2008 8:30 am

    I think it is interesting to think about the issues you raised,

    I do have a question though…

    For some students your English might be a bit complex? Could your questions be simplified?

  15. Elona Hartjes on October 20th, 2008 11:31 am

    Of course you can simplify my language in these questions. those are just the questions I use. You can change them to suit your students.

    Your welcome. Glad I could help.

    Thank you and good luck with your new classes.

  16. jeanne gray on October 20th, 2008 1:14 pm

    Elona – thanks for demonstrating the powerfulness of the relational piece when it comes to establishing an effective teacher-pupil partnership. This is often most underused as a teaching tool.

  17. Sharon on October 21st, 2008 9:34 am

    It took way too long to get into your article. You might say it didn’t make a good first impression. I thought I would send it to a couple of teacher friends, but it didn’t measure up. The questions came way down in the story. Teachers don’t have time to read on and on. And I bet students wouldn’t like answering those questions, either.

  18. Elona Hartjes on October 21st, 2008 11:44 am

    Thanks for your feedback. You always have the option of skimming any article to find what you want. The questions are numbered to make that easier. As for answering the questions, my students do like answering them because I value their input. You should try them with your students. You might be surprized. You never know until you try.

  19. Elona Hartjes on November 26th, 2008 5:00 pm

    For the person who left a comment this afternoon, I will not publish a comment unless the email address is valid.

  20. Elona Hartjes on November 26th, 2008 5:01 pm

    For the person who left a comment this afternoon, I will not publish a comment unless the email address is valid. Yours bounced back.

  21. Anthony Caffertey on July 10th, 2009 7:47 am

    This is an elightening approach to that first contact with a class. I would not have considered this before. Generally, I would have began my class by either trying to be nice and approachable and also by explaining what I believe the rules and routines are to be. But, you are right, to ask them these questions first allows them to see that I am showing interest in them as individuals and that it is to demonstrate my willingness to help them from the very first contact.

  22. Steve Stone on August 23rd, 2009 7:51 pm

    Perfect opener for tomorrow’s 7th & 8th grade 1st day of math elective classes. Thanks!

  23. paola on June 8th, 2010 6:42 pm

    hi, i´m going to teach English in my town and this is very difficult for my because all mi mistake the town will know of that and this can make me feel bud…I´m a little scare.

    I want to give the best of me, but how can i do it?


  24. Elona Hartjes on June 8th, 2010 8:15 pm

    I really don’t know what to tell you since I don’t know any details except that you are going to teach English. If you give me more info, perhaps I can be more help.

  25. Tass on June 29th, 2010 12:54 pm

    This is the greatest article i have read so far on this particular topic. Im currently a student myself but i tutor students who are a bit behind as well those with minor learning disabilities. And i found your question being very helpful on the first tutoring session on helping to set common goals with the tutti as well as the right expectations. Thank you.

  26. Elona Hartjes on June 29th, 2010 5:26 pm

    Glad you find my article useful. Spread the word.

  27. Martine on August 28th, 2010 5:48 pm


    I’m an ESL teacher and I stumbled upon your nine questions while looking for a decent questionnaire to give my students on their first day of class. I found it very insightful, I will use it with my grade 8 and 9 students and see what they’ll come up with. I’ve also bookmarked your site for future reference. Thank you so much!

  28. Creating Lifelong Learners » Blog Archive » First Day of School Activities on September 1st, 2010 4:30 pm

    […] Nine Questions to Ask Students on First Day of School by Elona Hartes […]

  29. Pam on October 16th, 2010 2:47 pm

    I came across your site while researching learning by students in order to improve the learning of residents in a surgical training program. I think the questions are relevant even at this level and would like to you utilize them in our program with your permission. Thank you for such an insightful posting.

  30. Sam Rangel on October 20th, 2010 11:38 pm

    Excellent post. This is perfect for new teachers.

  31. Success In The Classroom » 5 Blog Posts That Every New Teacher Should Read on October 25th, 2010 1:14 am

    […] Nine Questions I Ask My Students On The First Day of School. – Elona Hartjes – a Teacher of Distinction Award Winner shows you how you can get that first […]

  32. Sam Rangel on October 25th, 2010 1:16 am

    Thanks again for the post. I’ve included it in my 5 Blog Posts That Every New Teacher Should Read Post.

    Thank you,
    Sam Rangel

  33. First Day of School Activities on November 3rd, 2010 9:02 am

    […] Nine Questions to Ask Students on First Day of School by Elona Hartes […]

  34. Lucy on January 8th, 2011 11:27 am

    Great questions, Elona. Thank you.
    I noticed some typos in your responses to comments, though. ie:
    ‘Your welcome’ should be ‘You’re welcome’.
    This is an important point to consider, especially if you’re in a teaching position.

  35. Sahar on January 23rd, 2011 2:21 pm

    This is a very good survey to get to know students. What if I want to know their parents and how they can help their children at home? Do you have an idea what type of questions to ask?

  36. Elona Hartjes on January 24th, 2011 4:51 pm

    Good question Sahar. I’ll think about questions for parents and post them by the end of the week.

  37. Rozelle Clary on January 26th, 2011 6:18 pm

    I really enjoyed this article. I am a student at the University of Central Arkansas and I really found this article effective in this assignment that I have to do. It really pointed me in the right direction to come up with questions that will help me get to know my students better. Thank you!

  38. Shella Tran on January 28th, 2011 6:26 am

    Hi Elona!

    I LOVE these questions :) I want to make a survey/questionnaire for my students to fill out but I’ve been wondering what questions to put in it that would be insightful… and voila! These are great! :)

    Just a quick question…. after the class fills them in (do they do this quietly on their own?) do you collect them all and say you will read them in your own time? Or do you ask students to volunteer to share an answer? Do you discuss it as a class? Or….?

    Thanks for your help :)

  39. Elona Hartjes on January 28th, 2011 6:59 am

    I have the class share and discuss the ideas in class. I ask for volunteers from each placemat to share with class and then record the idea on chart paper for all to see as well as hear.

  40. Elona Hartjes on January 28th, 2011 7:00 am

    Shella, I don’t share with class. The answers are private. But, you could ask for volunteers.

  41. Faith on March 14th, 2011 3:10 am

    Hi Elona,

    I’m a private tutor, and I usually teach one-on-one. Does asking the 9 questions on the first class still work if there is only 1 student in it?

  42. Elona Hartjes on March 14th, 2011 10:45 am

    Yes, I believe it would.

  43. How to positive student-teacher relationships « « Bottles ForeverBottles Forever on March 18th, 2011 10:51 pm

    […] start the class positively (and thus start building relationships with your kids) is to pass out a student survey like this one. Some teachers also use the student survey to collect contact information. By starting off the […]

  44. Kim on August 1st, 2011 9:43 am

    Thank you so much for sharing these questions and how you start off the first day of school. As a second year teacher, I knew I wanted to focus the first day of school more on students than procedures and expectations, and these 9 questions fit right in with what I need to know about my students that first day.

    Thank you so much for posting.

  45. Elona Hartjes on August 2nd, 2011 8:15 pm

    I think building positive relationships with my students is important from day one. Building positive relationships involves demonstrating a respect for students as individuals in and out of school. I think these questions demonstrate my respect for them.

  46. Karen McNab on August 8th, 2011 11:27 pm

    I am currently writing a questionaire for a year two class. It will be given to them on the first day of school so that I can get to know what their interests are. This will hopefully then guide me to how the class will best learn throughout the first semester. Your questions are good but how could I adapt them for use in a class of 7 year olds? I plan on doing the test again in the second semester as you have suggested.
    Thanks for you help

  47. Joelle Kilcourse on August 9th, 2011 7:51 pm

    Hi Elona! I have been teaching for about 9 years and I like to ask questions similar to yours on the first day, too. As a H.S English teachers, I usually tend to ask specifically about reading habits. I completely agree that we need to ask questions which include the whole child and I also think reflection and goal setting are good practices to establish early on. In addition to serious questions like these, I also give my students a “pop quiz”. I don’t preface it with anything and usually they think it has to do with summer work, but it’s really all silly true and false questions about me. However, I do include personal facts like how I failed Finite math three semesters in a row in college, needed remedial help in chemistry in high school, fell off the monkey bars and broke my wrist, etc. to stress that I am not perfect and have needed extra help with subjects (even PE!) in the past, too. Sometimes I do the pop quiz before the longer, more intense questions to break the ice and set a positive tone in class. I really enjoy your site and look forward to reading more of your ideas and insights.

  48. Elona Hartjes on August 11th, 2011 9:12 am

    I like the idea of the pop quiz on facts about you.

  49. Elona Hartjes on August 11th, 2011 9:14 am

    I think the questions I ask would work just change them to fit you topic you want to stress. I’ve had conversations with six year olds that demonstrate they can answer these types of questions.

  50. First Day of School Activities | Creating Lifelong Learners on August 29th, 2011 8:46 pm

    […] Nine Questions to Ask Students on First Day of School by Elona Hartes […]

  51. Jessica on September 2nd, 2011 3:26 pm

    Thank you for posting these! I’ve been trying to think of and look for questions to ask the students at the beginning of school… questions that are meaningful to them and me, and these are awesome! It definitely lets them know you care what they think and by using their answers in your teaching, it shows them that you do value them and their opinions! Thanks :)

  52. Kapil on February 2nd, 2012 3:58 am

    Sir kindly post some questions regarding future objectives..i have to make a questionaire.

  53. kristian on August 3rd, 2012 3:43 pm

    I know i have i love i can enjoy ur question.:)

  54. kristian on August 3rd, 2012 3:45 pm

    I will miss my whole childen at school some times

  55. Christi on August 9th, 2012 10:17 pm

    Thank you so much for posting this! I have been back and forth about letting the students come up with classroom rules for 9th and 10th grades, and reading this just confirmed that I was on the right track! Your page is exactly what I needed to read! :) God Bless!

  56. Keith on August 22nd, 2012 12:20 pm

    Thank you so much for this. I will be teaching my first band class of the year soon and plan on starting with these questions. Along with a 10th What is one goal you have for this year in band?

  57. Tim Anderson on September 2nd, 2012 10:05 am

    Really enjoyed the nine questions I ask my students on first day. I am middle school math special ed teacher and I work with “at risk” students, so was really good.

  58. Monday by the Numbers - Instructify on September 7th, 2012 9:45 am

    […] 9 Questions I ask my Students on the First Day of School – Teacher Elona Hartjes believes in the value of making a good first impression. That’s why she asks her students these nine questions to make sure the school year gets off to a good start. She provides some valuable insight, and makes her students think about their successes and wants when it comes to education. Perhaps the most important question on the list: What three things can you do as a student to help yourself be more successful this year? […]

  59. Anika on July 17th, 2013 1:27 pm

    Thanks for this post! I used a version of this on my practicum this past year and found it incredibly helpful to quickly get to know the students! I tried to use some of their responses to guide my instructional choices as well.

  60. Litsa Podaras on August 30th, 2014 12:23 am

    Dearest Elona,
    long time no see, how nice to find this article. I was looking for questions to ask my middle school students (we start on Sept. 8th) and my google search brought me to you. Thanks for all the advice. All the best to you.

  61. Paul Sandy on November 20th, 2014 11:49 am

    Ms. Hartjes,

    My name is Paul Sandy and I’m in the process of attaining a teaching certificate and master’s degree in Education in the content area of Social Studies. I came across your blog, and I just want to say thank you for this insightful post. In my program, we have learned the importance of forming relationships with our students, and this list of 9 questions seems like a great way to get to know students’ interaction with learning and school. I will go back to this list of 9 questions when I am a full-time student teacher next semester.

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