How to take attendance in classes with low motivation

Peter Quinn, Takushoku University

Quick guide

  • Keywords: Classroom management, motivation, autonomy
  • Learner English level: All
  • Learner maturity: University students
  • Preparation time: Minimal
  • Activity time: 3 to 5 minutes
  • Materials: Two attendance sheets, each with two columns: Name and Student Number

I once had a class where one student did not answer when his name was called for attendance. I called the roll again and again, but the student still did not answer when his name was called. It took me a long time to find out why there were more bodies in the class than students marked present on my attendance sheet. The student did the same thing the following week. On the third week, I used the method explained in this article to deal with the problem. The reluctant student only had to be marked absent once before he started following the instructions. I recommend doing these steps as overtly as possible. Let the students see what you are doing so they can understand and accept the procedure.



Step 1: Place the papers at the front of the class. Have students come to the front to write their names and student numbers on the paper. You might have to tape the papers to a desk the first few times to ensure students do not just pass around the paper while sitting. Take this time to chat with students about anything. Lend pens to students who ask to borrow a pen in English. Be available for spontaneous communication with the students who are writing their names.

Step 2: After all students sit back down, make sure the number of students on the list matches the number of students in the room. You must never omit this step. If there are too few names, explain that students who do not write their names will be marked absent. If there are too many names, determine who the absent student is and delete that name. Students do not try that trick twice.

Step 3: Draw a line under the last name. Students who come late must write their names under this line. For late students, write the number of minutes they are late next to their names. Students are considered to have joined class when they write their names on the paper. If any students come too late to be considered present, do not allow them to write their names on the paper.


Follow-up activity

This follow-up can be done in the middle of the semester, at the end of the semester, or both. Have students guess in writing how many times they were absent or late. Talk to each student individually. Look at each week’s attendance sheet with each student. Give appropriate feedback about their attendance and lateness. This activity can be done more discretely.



This method has many advantages over the traditional method of calling the roll. I always make my students walk around to get their blood flowing. This method gets students to stand up and walk. It deals in a non-confrontational way with students who are reluctant to answer when their names are called as well as students who enter the classroom late but do not want to be noticed. They may approach you after a lesson and say, “I came five minutes late, but you didn’t see me.” You can show them the paper and say, “If your name is not here, you are absent.” This makes attendance and lateness more obvious than just marks in boxes made by the teacher. Students who are late see that they must write their names under the line and see the teacher write how late they were. Students who come too late to be considered present are shocked not to be allowed to write their names on the paper. Overall, this procedure gets students involved by giving them more responsibility. With a traditional roll call, if a mistake is made with attendance records, it is the teacher’s fault. With this method, it is the student’s responsibility. Thus, it is much harder for a student to argue that the roll is incorrect.