Back to School-Everyone Gets a Mulligan!

Utilizing Interest Inventories to Get to Know Your Students

A Mulligan–That’s golf-speak for a do-over!  Honestly, the best part of teaching is that it is one of the few jobs where you get to start fresh every year.  As reflective teachers we can’t help but think back on lessons we taught throughout the previous school year.  Most teachers we know are of the perfectionist ilk.  They rework and rework and rework their creations; be it posters, worksheets, or lessons, aiming toward flawlessness.  The beauty of September is that after all that contemplation we get to start with a clean slate.

Here are just a few of the new things that help us get a fresh start:

  •    New classroom supplies – pencils, crayons, journals etc.
  •    New classroom books – with that new book smell – Mmmmmm!
  •    New school clothes
  •    New haircuts
  •    We might get brand new students and even see some familiar faces, but these faces have grown over the summer coming to us with new perspectives
  •    New ideas and, with that, new lessons

At the beginning of last year, we put a new spin on the standard reading inventory.  We found that the students who filled out the multiple choice reading inventories seemed to be trying to out-think us.  Many tended to either choose an answer that they thought we wanted or, in an effort to get the “right” answer, they glanced at the paper of the student sitting next to them.  As a result, the student reading inventories were not particularly useful in giving us a window into each student’s reading life.

So we got to work.

Slide1First, we decided that the format of the inventory should be open-ended.  With this simple tweak, students were unable to “guess” at the optimal multiple choice answer because they were required to generate an individualized response.

Next we pondered what we really needed to know about our students in order for our instruction to be most effective.

Then we developed our prompts, aiming for relevancy.  For each prompt, we asked ourselves why it was important for us to know the answer.

Finally,  we narrowed down our list of prompts to the five most important.  We chose only five because our sessions are only 30 minutes long and we didn’t want to overwhelm our students, particularly the reluctant writers.

Getting to Know Me+
We use this interest inventory with students in Grades 2-6.

The final product resulted in the following prompts:

  1.    Three things you should know about me are:
  2.    I am passionate about:
  3.    The thing I like MOST about school is:
  4.    The thing I like LEAST about school is:
  5.    I am in reading class because:

Prompts 1 and 2 are used to help us relate to the students and guide book selection.

Prompts 3 and 4 do not necessarily have to be subject-oriented as in reading or writing.  Responses may include social issues (I have lots of friends, I don’t have many friends) or it may include logistical issues (I don’t like getting up early or I love eating breakfast at school).  Responses can help the teacher understand what is going on below the surface.

Prompt 5 is aimed at our particular classroom environment which is an intervention setting.  We chose this prompt because we want to know more about each student’s perception as to why he or she is receiving support.  This prompt helps to facilitate dialogue about each student’s responsibility, the teacher’s responsibility, expectations, and goals.  In order to individualize for different classroom settings, we have included a “Getting to Know Me” form in which prompt #5 is editable.  Click here for this Back to School freebie.

By using this type of interest inventory we have encountered a few bonuses that provided us with additional information about each of our students.

For example, after modeling the inventory, we reminded a student to get to work on her own responses so that we could get to know her better. She began diligently writing her answers. When she shared them, we discovered she had simply copied our response.  She was completely confused.  We discovered a student who had difficulty understanding oral language.  This helped us target subsequent instruction.

We have also utilized this inventory to assess a  student’s ability to craft a written response. Additionally, we have identified issues involving spelling, handwriting, grammar, and syntax.  Early identification of these needs enabled us to address them in a timely manner.

We are looking forward to starting off the new school year with this Getting to Know Me interest inventory.  We will use the information each student provides to develop better relationships with our students and focus instruction.

We hope you find our Back-to-School freebie helpful.  If these prompts don’t hit the mark for your students why not develop your own open-ended interest inventory?

We’d love for you to share some of your most effective prompts/questions in the comments below.


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  1. I love the idea of a mulligan! Thanks for explaining what that was. I am not a golfer in the slightest! I agree, it is refreshing each year to have a do-over and a fresh start. A teacher once told me that in teaching, each term, each day, each session can be a do-ever too! I like that idea (especially if the day has been rough!)

    1. You are absolutely right, Dave Robb! Every day is a new day. We are constantly reminding our students about that. Leave the past in the past.

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