What to Put on Your Student Questionnaire

The beginning of the semester is a busy time for teachers, so I’ll give you the good stuff right away. Below is the student questionnaire I’ll be using for my classes this coming semester. I kept it in Word so you can edit to your heart’s content.

Some quick background: I teach an adult ESL writing class at an intensive English program at an American university.

Now, if you’re interested in why student questionnaires are so important and want to know what to include in a student questionnaire for your own class, then keep reading!

Why do I need a student questionnaire?

The student questionnaire is a familiar part of the beginning of the semester routine. As a teacher, I started using student questionnaires because my superiors told me to, and then later because all the other teachers were making their students do them. I always got some information about my students from them, but after glancing over them, I usually just set them aside somewhere in the bowels of my office, only to see them again when I did a paper purge.

I’ve since changed my thinking quite a bit. Knowledge is power. The more you know about your students, the better you can teach them. And the best way to become more knowledgeable about your students is to ask questions. You won’t be able to learn everything you need to know about your students from a questionnaire, but a few well-crafted questions can give you a great head start.

The following sections have different types of information you might want to put on your beginning of the semester student questionnaire.

Basic and contact information

Teachers need a few bits of information just so that their class can function. You need to know what to call your students, how to contact them, and (if you’re teaching ESL) their nationality or language background.

Below are some questions about this type of information. Some might be applicable and appropriate for your situation, but others might not. Use your discretion and choose questions that fit your situation best. (The ones in bold are on my questionnaire attached above).

  • What is your nickname?
  • Where are you from?
  • What language(s) do you speak?
  • What email address do you check regularly?
  • What is your phone number/address/Facebook name/etc. ?
  • What is your student ID number?
  • Which dorm do you live in?

Background and life outside the classroom

The student questionnaire is also a good opportunity to find out about your students’ lives outside of the classroom. You’re not going to learn everything from a questionnaire, but some pieces of information about your students’ situations can help you get a sense of what you should expect from them.

Here are some examples, again with questions in my questionnaire highlighted in bold:

  • Do you have family in _(your city)_? (for adult ESL/study abroad contexts)
  • Do you have a laptop/smartphone/tablet/printer/internet at home?
  • Do you take the bus, drive, or walk to school?
  • Do you have a job?
  • Do you play a sport?
  • Are you in any clubs at school/university?

Interests

Knowing about your students’ interests helps you plan lessons that are meaningful and interesting for them. Every class has a different mix of students interests. You will find out more about what your students are interested in as the semester goes along, but including a few questions about interests on the student questionnaire can give you a good snapshot of what to expect and some ideas for class topics.

Examples, with the ones in my questionnaire in bold:

  • What do you want to do or study after our program/high school/returning home?
  • What are your hobbies?
  • What do you like to read, watch, or listen to?
  • What do you do in your free time?
  • What are your favorite websites to check?
  • What is your favorite movie?
  • What are your favorite television shows?
  • What is your favorite book?

Motivations and feelings

This is a section that I’m including for the coming semester. I’ve never used it before, but I’m hoping that it will yield some helpful information. Where I teach, at an intensive English program for adult ESL students, there are several students who are studying English as a means to an end. That is, they’re not exactly in love with the English language, but rather need it to continue with their studies or get a good job. As a teacher, I want to know my students’ reasons for being in my class so that I have a sense of their feelings towards it.

I think it will be important to tell students to be honest in this section. I will tell them that it’s OK to say “I don’t like English, but I need to get a better job.” During the first week, almost every student is on her/his best behavior, so the deeper feelings often don’t become apparent until a few days later. Getting students to open up, even about negative feelings, should lead to more honest interactions. I’m also hoping students that these questions will lead students to think about and be aware of their motivation, if only for a brief moment.

Here are the questions I chose for my questionnaire:

  • What would you like to learn in this class?
  • How do you feel about studying English (in general)?
  • How do you feel about writing in English?
  • Why are you learning English?

Student questionnaires are useful, so use them!

Like I wrote earlier, questionnaires can easily be seen as a formality, done hastily and carelessly by the student, and cast aside quickly by the teacher.

But a well-thought out student questionnaire can yield some very useful information.

This past summer, I referred to my students’ questionnaires several times throughout the semester. While I was planning classes, I didn’t have to think:

I want to do this online exercise, but does everyone have internet at home?

Oh this is an interesting article about art history! Perfect for my reading class. Are any of my students art history majors?

I could tell my class about the football game this weekend. Do any of them even like sports though?

What’s that student’s email address again?

Teachers should be learning about their students constantly, from the beginning til the end of the semester, and using a well-made student questionnaire is a great start.

Thanks for reading.

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Featured Image Credit: moppet65535

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