Check in with Students

Building a Better Check-In

When the pandemic first broke out, more teachers began incorporating check-ins into their lessons so that students could interact with one another before focusing on the content. A mood rating form, an emoji that best captures how they’re feeling, or a picture from a three-by-three grid that best represents their current mood are all options for students to consider. “Can you tell me which hedgehog you are?”

This type of activity can serve as a fun way for students to begin class, a ritual through which they can form a sense of community, and an assessment tool that can help teachers determine how well students are doing in class. Community and wellness have always been important, but during the third year of pandemic teaching, they have risen to a higher level of importance than ever before. What can we do to make check-ins a more positive source of community and well-being for our students and staff?


. We have the ability to experience a wide range of emotions, sometimes all at the same time or in rapid succession. The students might be enraged over something their sibling did, excited about the afternoon basketball game, and concerned about the math test the following day. They may even experience multiple emotions in response to the same event, such as being both excited and terrified to attend school in person. However, asking students to express only one emotion means they will ignore or suppress any other feelings they may be experiencing. Instead, we can ask questions that elicit a range of emotions from the respondent.

The first three emojis that come to mind are the ones that best describe your day so far.
When you reflect on the previous week, can you recall a time when you experienced each of the following emotions?
Students are encouraged to acknowledge the complexities of their emotional experiences by asking questions like these. All emotions become healthy, expected, and respected when students learn to recognise and name a variety of emotions throughout the course of their daily lives.

2. Change the tenor of the voice. Some of the check-in questions can be amusing, such as “Do school subjects have colours?” or “Do school subjects have names?” or the now-famous “If a tomato is a fruit, is ketchup a smoothie?” debate on the internet. Other prompts, such as questions about students’ homes, responsibilities, identities, and beliefs, can be more serious in nature than others.

The check-in process can provide a safe space for students to bear witness to a traumatic event—and there have been many recently, including Covid, racist attacks, and climate change—while also providing an opportunity to grieve and plan a justice-oriented response. Lastly, some check-ins can be a cause for celebration: “Can you tell me about your proudest moment this week?” as in “Who in this class has been an inspiration to you this week?” By varying the tone of check-ins, students will be exposed to a wide range of emotions at the same time as one another.

3. Make it sensitive to cultural differences. Using more inclusive language does not simply imply asking students how they are celebrating December holidays rather than Christmas, as is the case with the previous example. Despite the fact that Christmas is a major holiday, many Jews do not regard Hanukkah as being as holy as other Jewish holidays such as Sukkot and Shavuot, which are less well-known because they do not coincide with major Christian holidays such as Easter and Thanksgiving. To be more inclusive, ask about family and seasonal traditions at various points throughout the year rather than just at the end of the year.

Take care not to explicitly or implicitly recenter historically dominant sociocultural groups, such as white, cisgender, heterosexual, Christian, affluent, able-bodied, and neurotypical people, when developing check-in questions. Incorporate prompts that are applicable to all students and that do not imply prior knowledge of or participation in a dominant cultural tradition.

4. Involve students in the process of developing check-in prompts. Once students are familiar with your check-in structures and the types of prompts you use, you can invite them to design their own check-in structures. Prior to using student-generated prompts, you’ll want to make sure they’re appropriate. Most students will take the responsibility seriously and provide prompts that reflect their diverse personalities, histories, and interests.

Students who say little during check-ins may create prompts that spark meaningful discussions among their peers, and you may notice this if you observe them closely. Students can use this as an opportunity to contribute to a healthy community and a sense of well-being in their own right.

5. Incorporate the practise of noticing emotions into academic routines. Check-ins at the beginning of class recognise and honour the experiences that students bring into the room before we ask them to think about something completely different. Some teachers also conduct a check-out session, during which they invite students to share their thoughts, questions, and feelings about the day’s work. This set of rituals helps students become oriented within the classroom setting, but if students only express their emotions before and after academic learning, they may get the message that their feelings exist outside of the main business of school—academics—and are therefore less important.

Observing students’ own psychological experiences with the content, connecting with one another through the content, and cultivating a willingness to struggle with difficult content in the service of their larger goals are all essential. Affect noticing protocols such as the emotions and values audit in Two-for-One Teaching, a book I co-authored with Jonathan Weinstein, integrate emotion awareness into academic lessons, allowing students to bring more of themselves to the classroom and more of their learning to the classroom.

6. Establish a link between emotions and values, and between values and actions. The presence of strong emotions indicates that something important is at stake. When we are depressed, it indicates that something important has passed away. When we are angry, it usually means that something important has been taken away from us or from someone close to us. When we are afraid, it usually means that something important is in danger of being threatened.

When students express their feelings, they require time to allow those feelings to remain inside them rather than folding them neatly into a package and placing it aside for the duration of class. As well as providing opportunities for them to discover the values that their emotions are pointing towards, they require opportunities to choose actions that are consistent with those values. The classroom provides an excellent environment for students to discover their own values and to apply those values to their learning, work, and interpersonal relationships.

7. Employ a pedagogy of belonging in your classroom. If check-ins are the only opportunities for students to express their emotions, values, stories, observations, and dreams, there is no reason for them to go particularly in-depth with their responses. if students are going to be open about themselves, then those conversations need to be part of a larger culture in which they feel seen and heard as well as respected, supported, and encouraged. A safe and affirming environment where students can open up about the content—and about themselves—is created by protocols that ensure that every student makes meaningful contributions and that all contributions are heard and appreciated.