Assign Numbers to Students

Over the years, I got smarter about keeping up with my students and their assignments. Once I figured out that numbers were easier — and faster — for recording grades and returning student work (than alphabetical order by last names), I refined my system. Here are ten tips to help you if you are ready to do the same (and obviously if you have all your assignments turned in via a CMS, then you may not need this system).

  1. Assign your students numbers on the first day of class. If you have 30 students, students will have numbers of 1–30. If you have 78 students, they will have numbers assigned to them from 1–78. Note: I didn’t teach huge lecture classes so 80 was about the highest number I ever taught for a regular course.
  2. Require that students put their numbers on each piece of work that they turn in. You expect them to include their name (and you hope that they do), but primarily, you are asking that they include their “number.”
  3. At the end of class, have your helper — and I hope you have one (or hire one) put the papers that were submitted in numerical order. This takes only a few moments and saves so much time later.
  4. Input your grades easily when you use numbers. Everything is in order and you just put students grades into your “gradebook” (or more likely your computer).
  5. Put the papers to return to students into 1–31 files. This was one of the best things about assigning numbers to my students. I could just drop their papers into the slots (or better yet, have my assistant drop the papers into the slots) quickly and easily because they were all in order. This worked much better than using alphabetical order
  6. Have students retrieve their work from the 1–31 files vs. you handing the papers back. My students knew that either before class, during the break (my classes were usually 3 hours long), or right after class, they could come up and retrieve their papers from their slot. Anything that was to be returned to them could be retrieved quickly and easily that way. Note: I was quite clear that they were to retrieve THEIR papers and not anyone else’s, for privacy reasons but also because of the #8 tip.
  7. If anyone is absent, you’ve put today’s handouts into the slot so it’s there the next time. This way, you are not worrying about bringing something back week to week (just hoping that you will remember it). If it is in the slot, then it can be off your mind. It’s the students’ responsibility to retrieve those additional materials at the next class period when they return.
  8. You can take attendance by seeing whose stuff is still in their slots. Usually, I don’t announce that at the beginning of class, but I DO make it clear that students are only be “in” their own slots, not anyone else’s for privacy reasons. The reality is that in addition to that reason, I can see whose materials are still in the slot and take roll quickly after class. It’s not the only way I take roll, but it is one way that works well.
  9. You can call out numbers to mix up who is responding. This provides one of many alternatives to simply calling on those with their hands up or those with their hands very purposely NOT up. It’s reasonably random.
  10. You can group people by number when you’re doing small group in-class interaction. You don’t have to take the time to count off in class because, in essence, the students are already “pre-counted” and you can just say 1–5, over here, 6–10 over here, or all of you with a 4 in your number, go over here, etc.

Try assigning numbers if you have a class of 90 or fewer. Buying the 1–31 expandable file folders and renumbering the second or third one (up to 93) works fine. Beyond that, however, you will probably want to try a different system.

My belief is that we all have more control than we think we do…at least over those items that I’ve listed above. Be thankful for the control you have and use it in a productive manner.

And if you want to get your current semester organized or prepare for the next, I highly recommend that you access (with my complements) the class, If You Do Nothing Else This Semester. With the strategies I present you will get the strategies you need to not only have a successful semester, but a successful year.



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