Knowing your students

Effective use of assessments and feedback relies on how well you know your students. Your knowledge needs to extend beyond the time they spend in the classroom environment.

Think of a student in your class who is learning English as an additional language. Do this quiz to see how well you already know them as a person.

  1. Does their name have a special meaning in their language?
  2. Is it a common name in their country?
  3. If they have an English name, who chose it and why?
  4. What is their first language (L1)?
  5. Do they speak any language(s) apart from L1 and English?
  6. How long have they been learning English?
  7. Can their parents speak English?
  8. Are they a similar age to Australian born students in that year at school?
  9. What is their date of birth?
  10. Where were they born?
  11. Do they have any siblings?
  12. What is their position in the family?
  13. Who do they live with and who is their major caregiver?
  14. When did they arrive in Australia?
  15. Did they have any schooling before arriving in Australia? How much?
  16. What are their literacy skills in L1?
  17. What are their current literacy skills in English?
  18. What interests do they have inside school?
  19. What interests do they have outside school?
  20. Are their friends from the same language background?


  • If there are gaps in your knowledge for this student, are these gaps the same for all students in your class? How can you find out the missing information?

Peer discussion:

  • Do you and your colleagues have similar gaps? Share strategies for finding out important information to help you know your students better.


Effective formative assessment depends on students feeling safe within their classroom environment. The culture needs to encourage students to ask questions, say when they don’t understand something, view errors as learning opportunities and feel comfortable about giving feedback to and receiving constructive feedback from their peers. In a safe classroom, responsibility for learning is shared between the teacher and the students and students are aware how they can be effective learners. Knowing your students well and then incorporating that knowledge in the learning process will build their trust and establish an effective teaching-learning partnership.

Knowing the whole child means knowing about their life beyond the school gate. This knowledge includes their past experiences, present life outside school and future dreams. Children are not empty vessels and much of what they achieve in school is affected by their life outside school. Students also enjoy knowing about you. Can you incorporate some of your history – family and professional – into teaching? Everyone enjoys stories and yours may prompt your students to tell you some of their own, helping you to know them even better.

Education is a very personal journey. Viewing the classroom as a learning community means each individual is well known and recognised as unique. Our uniqueness defines how we learn and how we react to different experiences. To provide effective feedback we need to know students as individuals.

Using formative assessment effectively depends on knowing students’ existing strengths and areas that need further work. To build on previous learning, you need to know what students already know and what skills they bring with them.

Knowledge of student learning can include:

  • the extent of their ability to learn in a particular mode (eg speaking, listening, reading, writing)
  • the level of language used to express understanding (eg circumlocutions to compensate for unknown technical vocabulary, extent and accuracy of grammatical knowledge, using appropriate discourse register and generic features to express ideas/needs)
  • the extent of their knowledge on a particular topic in terms of learning content (may need to be expressed in L1)
  • whether they need scaffolding to demonstrate what they know, can demonstrate it independently or can go beyond by applying it to new learning
  • the attitude they bring to learning in general and learning in this area in particular (the extent they value the learning process, the interest they display, the extent they engage in feedback on their learning).

Understanding where students are at in their learning helps you make connections between their prior learning and the new learning. It helps provide just the right amount of scaffolding to move them forward, whether they are learning something new or developing independence. The feedback you provide will also be tailored to their current needs.

Teacher-student relationships are very powerful and have important implications for learning. The power comes partly out of what teachers know and do and to a large extent out of what of what they care about. When students know you know and care about their prior experiences, interests, skills and needs, their engagement with learning is likely to be high. The feedback you offer will be taken seriously since the positive comments and strategies for improvement will be recognised as genuine and personal.

Knowing your students well means you can celebrate their achievements, respond respectfully to their problems and offer help in timely and meaningful ways. By responding to them as individuals you will help them realise they are on a unique educational journey. Because you reflect on their learning and provide meaningful feedback, they will learn to reflect on their individual learning styles and strategies too.

The easiest way to find out what students want and need is to ask them – either by using an interpreter or by using various scaffolds and supports to encourage them to discuss their views. For example, see what one group of EAL students said when asked What can teachers do to help us?

  1. Divide a piece of paper into three columns.
  2. In Column 1 list your students by name. Order is not important. Simply write each name down without referring to any list. Count the names you have written to make sure no one has been forgotten. Check for any misspelt names, as correct spelling is a sign of respect.
  3. In Column 2 write one interest for each student. Place a tick next to each interest if you are sure the student knows you know about it.
  4. In Column 3 write one important thing about each student’s family.
  5. Any blanks or an interest without a tick indicate goals to work on.


Click on the image to open the complete document (217 pages)

ABOUT TEACHING LANGUAGES. A professional development program for primary school teachers. Unit Two: Sociolinguistic Profiling

We're thrilled to be able to share this resource with you. It was written and compiled by Sarina Greco and Elina Raso, and was published by the Catholic Education Office in 1989! Yes, almost 30 years ago but it's back due to popular demand! 

This wonderful resource contains pages and pages of practical resources to help you to get to know your students. The focus of this unit (which is one of four), as the title suggests, is sociolinguistic profiling. Sections included in this unit are:

  • Section I. The starting point for language curriculum planning.
  • Section II. The starting point for community language planning
  • Section III. The starting point for ESL and a culturally inclusive curriculum
  • Section IV. Sociolinguistic profiling manual
  • Section V. Workshop process and OHTs

Additional resources:

The Colorin Colorado web site list six strategies for getting to know your English language learners.

The web site also includes a link to a YouTube video, Advice for teaching ELLs. Getting to know your students. In this video, Clara Gonzales-Espinoza highlights the value of getting to know ELL (English Language Learner) students. 


Adapt the Learner Profile Document  to record information about EAL students in your class. 

Name of School

Name Date
Class Year at school
Other schools attended
Intensive English program on arrival?
Date of birth Place of birth
Date of arrival in Australia
Siblings Position in family
Other family members in the home
Student interests


Languages Other Than English



When learnt

Listening Speaking Reading Writing

Dominant* language(s)



Other languages



Language Other Than English (LOTE) at school



*The dominant language is the student’s strongest language. Other languages may have been used at home, school or in the community.


Family languages spoken at home


Mother _________________________________________________________________


Father _________________________________________________________________


Other family member ______________________________________________________


Family languages used at home (reading and writing)


Mother _________________________________________________________________


Father __________________________________________________________________


Other family members _________________________________


English Language Learning Profile


Year Year at school School Notes Assessments



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