From Routine to Ritual: Classroom Attendance


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So I was thinking of a routine I might turn into a ritual, as per my last post.

A school routine . . .

Attendance!  In every class, I take attendance.  This routine is so routine, there’s probably no one who doesn’t know how this works.  The teacher goes down the alphabetical list, calling out student names and the students say, “Here,” when they hear their name.  It’s a routine; it exists for no other reason that its purpose, and it’s executed quickly and efficiently.

I was thinking that, rather than every student saying the same thing, “Here,” why not have then each reply with something unique?  In my first class, I asked them to reply with their favourite colour when I called their name.  Attendance took a little longer, but the break from routine generated some excitement.

In my other classes, I asked other predictable questions:

  • What is your favourite food?
  • Who is your favourite villain?
  • What is your dream job?

The next day:

  • Who would you like to have coffee with?
  • What’s one book you’d want on a desert island?
  • In which historical period would you like to live?

Then we got a little more creative:

  • Which political or cultural figure would you like to hit with a pie in the face, or give a carnation?
  • What’s the grossest thing you’ve ever eaten?
  • What job would you never want?
  • What is your “spirit” animal? No, your “spirit” kitchen appliance?
  • What do you do when you are really sad (one word)?
  • One word, your most t embarrassing moment?
  • What movie would you like to be in, as which character?
  • What stupid superpower would you like to have?
  • What is a characteristic of one of your parents you hope you never acquire?
  • In my English classes I can ask, in which dystopian world would you rather live?

[click_to_tweet tweet=”The routine of classroom attendance, can be transformed into a ritual that creates community and transforms the individuals in it. #teaching #teachingpractices #teacher #education” quote=”The routine of classroom attendance, can be transformed into a ritual that creates community and transforms the individuals in it. “]


Interestingly, these questions generated a lot of excited chatter.  So much that it made it almost impossible to get to the end of the class list.  So we worked on some normative behaviours–“norms” that would improve the ritual.  I asked the students for their ideas and they came up with a good list.

  1. Don’t tell your answer to your neighbour until your name is called.
  2. Look at the person whose name is called so you can hear their contribution.
  3. Respond quickly and positively.
  4. Don’t forget to ask Mr. DeJong his answer.

Rituals mean something beyond the activity itself.  What I like about this attendance ritual is that it sets the tone for the rest of the class.

  • It’s fun and creative.
  • This fun and creativity is focused and contained.
  • This ritual celebrates the uniqueness of each individual as well as the importance of the communal context;
  • the value of each contribution, and contributor, is reinforced by the norm of respectful listening.
  • Everyone gets a voice; everyone’s voice is respected.

These “meanings” are at the core of what I am trying to teach in all of my classes–this “mindless ritual” is helping me to do it.

If you have any other suggestions for “Attendance Questions” please send them in the comment section.  I will be needing about 100 of them.


  1. Guillermo

    Attendance ideas:
    Sing favorite jingle
    Hum favorite song
    Name a composer
    “I am …” statement

    • Trent

      I love the music connection–these will certainly get them going, especially first block 🙂

  2. Jim Williams

    Hey Trent: Like you I found the routine of attendance was mind-numbing drudgery until I started asking “The Daily Question” in December. It does build community. It can be very revealing. It is quite intriguing. I’ll contribute a tithe of the questions you seek that generated good responses:
    1. Once you are working in your vocation which charitable organizations will you contribute to and why?
    2. If you could change one thing about your parents, what would it be?
    3. What are you most proud of having done?
    4. What do you respect about your siblings?
    5. What would you like your worship leader at church/school to know?
    6. What would be your theme song and why?
    7. Today you may ask a person in class (one you have rarely/never chatted with) a question.
    8. What would you like to know about the “behind the scenes” here at the school?
    9. Ask me a question, make it deep, or suffer mockery…
    10. Which Biblical persona do you like (besides Jesus) and why?

    I enjoy reading your posts.

    PS only 31 days ’til we fly out.

    • Trent

      Thanks for these, Jim. Some go into realms beyond attendance, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Thanks for reading. I can’t wait to watch your photos come posting.

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