The Case For Not Doing Traditional “Get To Know You” Activities

Before school started, I participated in many Twitter chats, a number of which discussed “get to know you” activities. September is almost synonymous with these types of class building activities. The question quickly becomes, which of these “get to know you” activities do you like the best? I’m afraid that I might be alone when I say, “none of them.”

Please don’t get me wrong here. I think that teachers need to get to know their students. I think that we need to form relationships with students. We need to know what they like, and we need to know what they don’t like. We need to know about their strengths and weaknesses, and we need to figure out the best way to help them succeed, as I do believe that all students can succeed. We also need students to build relationships with each other. They need to learn how to work together. They need to learn how to trust each other. They need to learn how to communicate with each other. And I think that we can do all of this and more by jumping in and just getting started.

On the first day of school, I had the students come into the classroom. We sorted supplies, and then we took a short walk around the school to find the office, the bathrooms, and the playground. Then we came back to class, and we made an “I Chart” together for our Read To Self centre. The students told me what they should be doing when they read by themselves. During the summer, I wrote a note to students, and I asked them to bring in a book that they could read. I also put together a large collection of wordless picture books, popular storybooks, and various leveled books that I knew all of the students in the class could read. With these books gathered and sorted, and our I Chart complete, we worked on reading. Students started by reading by themselves for two minutes. While they were reading quietly, I went student to student, and I had them read to me. We talked about what they were reading. We talked about what they liked to read. When the timer went, students challenged themselves to pick another book and read for three minutes. This gave me more time to read with the class. Within 5 minutes, I had read with every student in the class. This was a quick read, but it gave me some good information and a valuable starting point.

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Then in the afternoon, we moved onto writing. We added our names to the Word Wall. We looked at spelling patterns in the names, and we looked at some different word families too. Students were challenged to work with words and make a list of different “an” words. Some wrote sentences with these words. Others wrote stories using these words. They learned how to use Edmodo, and then they worked on the classroom laptop, the classroom desktop, the pod computers, and the SMART Board to write together. Students learned how to work with a partner. They learned how to share. They orally formulated sentences, and then helped each other write them. They began to use the tools that we will be using in the classroom throughout the year, and they started to get comfortable not just using these tools, but problem-solving with these tools too.

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Now the first week of school is almost over, and the students have already gotten started. They are well into our first round of literacy and math centres. During our four days of school, here’s what they’ve done:

  • Used the Livescribe Pen to retell stories – a reading comprehension and oral language activity.
  • Used Pictochat on the Nintendo DS’ to make lists of familiar words (Grade 1) and discuss reading comprehension strategies (Grade 2).
  • Used the Notebook software on both the SMART Board and the classroom computers to read together and write together.
  • Used the iPads to record their reading (using the QuickVoice app) and reflect on their reading too.
  • Used the iPod Touches to listen to two stories in Nelson Literacy and reflect on the Science concepts of living things (Grade 1) and animals (Grade 2).
  • Used the Livescribe Pen to discuss sorting rules (Grade 1).
  • Used the iPads (using the DoodleBuddy app) to represent different numbers and practice counting by 10’s (Grade 2).
  • Used the computers together for a sorting activity (Grade 1) and a counting and number recognition activity (Grade 2). Discussed their learning with the people in their small groups, and discussed their learning with me too.
  • Learned how to work in groups for both literacy and math centres. Solved problems in these groups, and asked each other for help.
  • Reflected on their learning with the help of ClassDojo. Instead of having me assess how they’re doing, the students are assessing themselves. Awesome!

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I may not embrace “get to know you” activities, but I’ve definitely gotten to know the students a lot over the past week. I know where they’re at academically, I know where they’re at socially, and I know where we need to go. Students have adjusted to the classroom routines by being immersed in these routines, and I really believe that this has benefited them. I can’t wait to see what excitement and learning next week brings.


So what about you? What are your thoughts on “get to know you activities?” How do you get to know your students? I know that there are different thoughts here, and I hope that this blog post with invite some discussion. I would love to know what you do, and why you do it too!



24 thoughts on “The Case For Not Doing Traditional “Get To Know You” Activities

  1. Aviva,
    I must say that you chose a contentious title for your blog post! I really had to push aside my preconceived notions to ensure I read your post as objectively as I could. As you reassured us early on in your article, you aren’t dismissing relationships. I read all those Unplugg’d Twitter posts and I myself am a Tribes TLC teacher, so relationship building and creating a positive learning community is very important to me. It sounds like you did do “getting to know you” activities, in a way, with your circulating reading observations. You did get to talk with the students about what they liked to read, but did any stumble? Did any say “I don’t know”? Did any refuse to talk? Did you get the impression that some said what you wanted to hear? I think with grade 1s and 2s you’d get a lot of cooperation, so some of my questions may just be stabs in the dark. Did you know many of these kids from kindergarten? Are many new to the school? How much of the relationship building was already in place from previous interactions?
    You also mentioned “students learned how to work with a partner. They learned how to share.” I’m being nitpicky here, but how did they do that? Did they get to choose their friends? Did they get a chance to learn each others’ names and talk with each other? I just think about what the first reunion in the staff room is like – yes, they get down to business but they also get a chance to tell their stories, talk about their summer, and reconnect. I think maybe you object to the in-isolation “ice-breakers” that have no relation to what happens regularly in class, to the people that pull them out the first day or so and then get down to the “real work”. Separating it like that doesn’t make sense, and you are right to not embrace those tasks when approached in that fashion.Taken in the context of learning (Tribes insists that reflection follow any energizer or activity – otherwise the potential for learning and transferring the learning to other areas is lost), playing “Doo Wacka Doo Wacka Doo” and realizing that mental practice leads to success is worth the 15 minutes of “get to know you”. Having said that, the students and school community’s eager to get back into the routine of lessons and learning, be it the kindergartens selecting appropriate “voices” for toys in my drama prep lesson or the grade 6s thinking about attitudes and stereotypes after a picture book read-aloud in library. Hope this Saturday set of thoughts isn’t too random!

    • Thanks for your comment, Diana! You actually inspired me to change my blog post title, and add in the word “traditional.” I guess that in our own way, we each get to know our students. I am definitely not suggesting that we don’t, as these relationships really are so important.

      As for when reading with the students, many of the students in the class were new to me. The students have seen me around the school, and I might know their names, but this is about it. Nobody refused to read with me, but for some of the quieter students, I sat back and watched them read. I also watched them interact with the people beside them. These interactions told me a lot.

      The Kindergarten students also knew each other (some from being in the same class last year), so some of these relationships were already in place. Sometimes they chose their own partners for activities, and sometimes I chose them. Instead of telling students how to work together, I like to see what they do. We modeled a bit when we worked together on a class example, but then I watched and saw what they did. Students started to talk about taking turns. They came up with different things for each person to do: one person would spell the words and the other person would type them. They figured out how to sign-out and sign-in again, so that they could publish from both accounts. They problem-solved. I didn’t take a small group, as I often would, but I circulated, watched, and talked to the different groups too. I think that this is important at the beginning of the year.

      I also work in a community where students do see each other. They have lots of opportunities to interact with peers, and they’re used to working together. This helps! I know that there’s many ways to do the same thing, and I’m very interested in knowing what others think about the traditional “get to know you” activities. Maybe there are other reasons for using them that I have never considered before. I’m very curious to hear the varied thoughts, and I’m sure tweak my own in the process. Thanks for getting me thinking!


  2. I think it’s really just a matter of semantics. While some educators did paper/pencil/paste activities, some of us chose to observe our children. Which one of us got a better ‘picture’ of our students? I think only the classroom teacher can answer that.

    I like to do a combination during the course of the first week. Some paper/pencil/paste activities give me a sense of what a student currently understands, other activities allow me to see how children work together, my favorite time is to just sit back and watch the interactions among my children as they engage in a variety of tasks.

    And I would hope that as we engage our students in ‘getting to know you’ activities, that we participate as well, so that our students may get a sense of who we are.

    • Thanks for your comment, Nancy! I agree with you that this is a case of “semantics,” as one way or another, we all get to know our students. Watching the students interact is one of my favourite ways to get to know them too. It’s why I like getting them in groups early on, sitting back, and seeing what they do. I also like to interact with them: sharing a bit of myself with them, as they share a bit of themselves with me. I think that your last line is so important too. Students need to get to know us as much as we get to know them!


  3. I find that everyone’s beginning of the year start up is different. You knew for the most part, who was going to be in your class come the first day of school. You were able to write them, ask them to bring a book they could read, and have their technology permission slips in hand on day one. I work in a transient school so I don’t know who is in my class until the school board decides if we warrant an additional teacher (they typically pull a teacher or two from our staffing at the end of each school year). This year we were told three days in that we were not going to get a new teacher, so we quickly confirmed the classes with the information we were given from the previous years teachers and added the new to students to the mix. On Friday morning I had “my” class for the first time and I was ready to move forward. But then, by late day Friday the kindergarten and grade one teachers were approached because the school board looked at our numbers again and we were offered a new teacher. So now, I need to find students from “my” class to place into a soon to be new class. In all this time I am trying my best to have meaningful lessons for my students even though I know that they may not be my students in the end. I am doing my best to keep them comfortable. My head (and heart) is bubbling with lessons I want to share with my students and routines I want to teach them. We will get ourselves up and running soon and my class family will be created. It will happen spending time talking and working with one another. It will come from a variety of actions, all with the intention of making my classroom a safe place to learn where the learning that is taking place is individualized. Ultimately isn’t that where every classroom teacher is headed, and does it really matter how they get there?

    • Thanks for your comment! You obviously have a very different situation here, and given the many changes that you have been dealing with, this will definitely impact on the year. We look at reorganization come the end of September (based on numbers), and last year, this reorganization had me losing more than half of my class as my Grade 1 class became a 1/2 split. I knew that this was a possibility, but I still started anyway. I guess that this is what I feel comfortable with, and more so, what my students responded best to. Our student make-up though is very different than yours, and that would definitely change how both of us approach the beginning of the year. I think that your final statement is incredibly important though: we all want the same thing for our students, and maybe it really doesn’t matter how we get there. Thanks for getting me thinking!


  4. Hi Aviva!

    You have just described great examples of how educators can replace traditional activities with activities that reflect 21st Century learning! It’s funny, I just wrote my first post about “deadheading” structures, policies, activities, etc. that do not align with a 21st century learning environments and here you are doing it with grade 1&2 students! Love It!

  5. Aviva, this is a great post. I think I share your feelings about “getting to know you.” We did an activity centered on the book trailer for Daniel Pink’s book Drive, where I asked students “What’s Your Sentence?” But other than that, our opening week activities are similar to yours.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks for the comment, Ben! I like your Daniel Pink activity. This sounds like a combination of a get to know you activity and a media literacy activity too. Fantastic!!


  6. I like what Robin Williams said about kids today.
    Kid: “Excuse me sir, I need a 1 terabyte server with a Linux kernel.”
    Salesperson: “How old are you?”
    Kid: “This many” holding up his fingers.

  7. Aviva,
    I have always believed that in jumping right in, as you have done, lets your students know exactly what you expect. No matter what the age, I feel this is what our students want and not be left to wonder what will happen next.
    It also allows you to make the necessary observations and begin formulating your plan immediately as far as who will need what so students will be successful and supported.
    Thanks for another thoughtful post.

    • Thanks JoAnn! We definitely see things the same way here. In my experience, “jumping right in” has really benefited the students. I do enjoy reading the comments on both sides of this debate though!


  8. Aviva,
    I love how the students were reading and writing for real reasons from day one in your classroom. I overheard a teacher say “We don’t start reading until all the assessments are done” which translates into “reading groups don’t start until the third week of school. That’s about 12-15 days lost (in my opinion). The goal has become “I want to see an increase in scores from the ‘fall Testing’ to the ‘spring Testing’ instead of I want my students to be reading and writing every day of school!”
    Good job!

    • Thanks for the comment, Fran! It’s this lost time that bothers me too. It’s great to see an increase in scores, but truthfully, I just want to see my students reading and writing (and excited to do it too). I’m glad that I chose to do what I did, but I love hearing what others chose to do too, and why. I’ve learned a lot from this post!


  9. This may seem unrelated, but I had an experience this summer where children were not encouraged to get to know each other in a group setting. It was a soccer team. The boys were aged 4-6. After 7 weeks I don’t think they knew each other’s names. I remember thinking that it would be great if the coaches spent a few minutes each week actually getting to know the kids and getting the kids to know each other. They were great soccer coaches, but I think more could have been done to help the team gel.

    • Don’t get me wrong! I think that it’s important to get to know your students and have students connect with each other too. I just think that it can be done while getting started on curriculum too. It’s a contentious issue. I love hearing both sides of the argument!

      Thanks for your comment!

  10. Good practice! I watch a lot of younger teachers go through 2-3 weeks of “feel good” introductory activities with dubious long term benefit to any of the students in their classes.
    Thirty-five years’ experience in this career has taught me that the best “feel good” for students is getting on with learning activities and being highly motivated and successful on meaningful tasks that increase knowledge, skills and a positive work ethic.

    • Thanks for the comment, Iain! I completely agree with you. I think that we all benefit by “getting started,” and that students can make lots of connections with each other and with the teachers, while still learning too!


  11. Starting out the year with the kind of rich collaborative (curriculum-based) tasks that will become the de-facto standard throughout the year can be the best kind of “get to know you” activity. Once students understand the type of creative, dynamic environment they have entered — and see the type of learning that the teacher has in store for them — it is my belief that they will be that much more engaged, excited, and motivated within that space. This should inevitably lead to the students opening up and sharing the things that make them special; sharing the things that they are interested in; sharing the ways that they learn best; and will allow them to become comfortable enough to reveal all the details you were trying to cull from that inauthentic “get-to-know-you” task.

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