For months I received countless reminder texts from students with pictures of waffle fries. I saved a collection of pictures from the Barbie Instagram on my phone. I have bought (and returned) several pairs of shoes.
All because of my most beloved teaching practice: the presence question.
While teaching online, I started tweeting about my daily attendance questions (or AQs), and it’s a topic I’m often tagged with on Twitter, especially this time of year, when teachers are looking for inspiration and new activities to try.
Although I am not the originator of the concept of using attendance questions in class, over time I have modified how AQ is used in my classroom. I’ve come up with inventive ways to keep the questions engaging, unexpected, and best of all, generators of some of the most memorable (and hysterical) conversations we’ve had throughout the year. If you’re looking for a surefire, completely free, and endlessly entertaining way to learn and stay in touch with your students through the school year, Attendance Question is just the tool.
What is the attendance question anyway?
Simply put, a daily attendance question is a low-stakes question presented to students at the beginning of each class, usually around attendance time. It’s not quite an icebreaker, not exactly a do-now or a warm-up, but a conversation starter and subtle marker as our learning time begins. Think of it as a soft opening before we begin the “real” work of learning. For secondary students, it fulfills the function of morning meeting in primary school.
Because of what it is designed to do, it is important to apply AQ regularly. (In fact, on the rare occasions I forget to post one, the kids get angry and scold me to get my act together.) Pretty soon, it becomes a predictable and welcome routine that the kids expect and look forward to each day. .
How do you use them?
There are many possible ways teachers can use to introduce AQ each day. My colleague Paul has each student verbally share their response to the AQ as their name is called during attendance. His rationale for that approach was that no matter what, it ensured that every child spoke out loud and had their voice heard in class every day.
At the beginning of class each day, I post the AQ to the landing page of our learning management system (in my district, we use Schoology; if you were using Google Classroom, for example, the AQ might be posted in the stream). This approach works well for a few different reasons: it allows me to embed visuals that support the question; This allows students to submit written responses rather than speaking if they are more reserved; And (this is a little scary) it helps prepare kids for the rest of the class by making sure they open their devices and our Class Schoology page before instruction begins.
Once a question is posted, I attend as students type their responses. I will read the answers, ask certain students for more details, or point out how other classes answered the same question to encourage competition. I always participate with the students and share my answers as well, but I let them answer first. I joke that if I share my response first, it might sway them, but the truth is that I can see the way responses are skewed and decide how to frame my response to generate more conversation or maximize controversy and drama.
The key is coming up with a good attendance question!
Both the quality and variety of attendance questions are important to engaging children. Some commonly shared appearance questions have been used so many times that they are no longer new and debatable (think: “Is a hot dog a sandwich?”) and some (eg, “What’s your favorite color?” or “Pizza or tacos. While the questions follow the same pattern each day, they are a little limited to keep the kids interested. I’ve found that matching the question pattern with visuals and options whenever possible, and finding ways to make the attendance questions feel individually tailored to the class all help to keep participation alive.
I come up with most of the AQs I use myself. Sometimes I borrow from others or adapt something from social media that translates well into the AQ format. Once you develop a way to curate potential attendance question content, you’ll see that there are endless possibilities for inspiration, both in real life and online. Below are some of the AQs I’ve used in the past, broken down into broad categories, and how I find inspiration for new attendance questions each year.
Mandatory: AQs with visual options
I like to give students a collage of photos and ask them to tag themselves or choose one of the options provided. This lowers the barrier to participation and takes some of the pressure off of coming up with a unique response. Adding these questions to the mix keeps participation levels high and provides easy opt-ins for all students.
This was last year’s AQ on the first day of school, inspired by a trip to the Florida Aquarium: “Tag Yourself: Which Dolphin Are You?” (I was obviously Neferio.)
You can vary your questions for the season: (“Which Jack-O-Lantern are you?”)
Or in response to a student who commented the day before saying they had never heard of a Furby 🙁“You are now a Furby. Tag yourself.”)
It was one of the most popular AQs I posted last school year “Which old school cell phone should come back?” With an abundance of options to choose from and debate, this style of attendance questioning can often generate heated discussion, with participants defending their own responses or debating each other’s preferences. and lRead on for another one of my favorite whole-class activities: Google Search-turned-Wormhole.
AQs based on current trends/topics
Although it’s important to have a collection of evergreen options for those days when you’re feeling less inspired (click here for my list!), sometimes an estimated AQ on a current topic is just the discussion-starter you’re looking for. When the Met Gala took place in September 2021, I used over-the-top costumes to create one. “Pick Your Met Gala Fighter” AQ with celebrities who were recognizable to students:
Similarly, the question of (prestigious) innocence “Are there many doors or wheels in the world?” Last spring was all about TikTok’s FYP. When I used this question in class, students had pre-generated evidence and claims all ready to go to back up their positions. For students who may not be aware of these trends, the questions may lack that extra context but are still easily accessible and fun to participate in the discussion.
The clincher: AQs individually tailored to the class
Important to include in the rotation are attendance questions that apply to your own personal context. These questions ensure that the daily practice of presence questioning does not feel like an anonymous activity culled from a pre-generated list of questions: the possibilities of who or what could be the subject of a presence question are dynamic and ever-evolving. These are the questions that the children remember most and are at the heart of the whole exercise: we are doing this as a way of connecting with each other.
In the past, I’ve done this by posting two truths and a lie and having the kids identify the lie (as a bonus, you can ask student volunteers to guest-star and post their own two truths and a lie for their friends. Puzzle above). I have asked “Which school drill is the best school drill?” and “Why does my arm feel like this?” When the duck that laid her eggs in our schoolyard returned this spring, an AQ asked the children to guess how many eggs she was laying. Notably, I invited students to consider whether to keep or return midnight fashion purchases.
This past school year, one of my ninth graders had a habit of taking selfies on his phone whenever he could. Once I had gathered a large collection, I asked each class to choose their favorite selfies. Not only was he the focus of attendance questions, but students also got a glimpse of what classes other than their own are like and the relationships that go beyond the confines of the classroom.
Additional helpful tips
- Be careful to ensure that the attendance question does not seek or demand too much weakness. They are engaged as a group and visible to all. Attendance questions should not rely on students sharing anything they consider too personal or sensitive.
- Flip the general question to mix things up. I often ask “What do you like about _____?” “What is your least favorite ______?” Instead of asking the students their favorite color, I asked them what they thought the ugly the color For teenagers in particular, claiming a favorite can make them feel self-conscious or feel like they’re being put on the spot (how many of us really know our favorite Song?), but when people go, we often say what we can don’t like
- Encourage friendly competition. When asking students which way to cut the sandwich was correct (straight across or diagonal), I tallied the responses and shared the final winner after all the classes voted. These irrelevant but fun contests keep kids engaged and curious about how other students respond.
- Some questions will flop. Hey, they can’t all be hits. If a question doesn’t go well one day, wrap it up and move it. Don’t set high expectations on every single AQ; Some will surprise you with their popularity and others will fall flat. All right!
- Find possibilities everywhere! The internet is great for finding ready-to-use ideas (like this one). “Which color is for math?” Mem found on Twitter), but your own friends can also make suggestions. When my best friend from high school shared this picture of her son’s bath toy on an IG story, I borrowed it and used it in class the next day:
If you’ve just started the school year, it’s not too late to start practicing daily attendance questions. Consider your class size, age, and available equipment and determine what type of AQ works best for you. With a little time and consistency, the attendance quiz will become a beloved fixture in your classroom and a memory your students will carry with them after their time in class is over.