Building better classroom communities by checking attendance

Graham Taylor, Nanzan University


Quick guide

  • Key words: Attendance, university, community building, classroom management
  • Learner English level:All
  • Learner maturity:All
  • Preparation time:5 to 10 minutes before the start of every class
  • Materials:7.5cm x 12.5cm cue cards


In any Japanese university, English language teachers are responsible for the regular recording of attendance. Unfortunately, the mundane act of calling the class roll not only wastes precious teaching time, but can also drain the energy and enthusiasm from a classroom of otherwise eager students. The use of an attendance card system can not only rectify these two problems, but can play an influential role in both community building and effective classroom management. While attendance card systems are certainly not my brainchild, and are already in use in many Japanese classrooms, there still seem to be many teachers who are unaware of the aforementioned benefits.


Look up all class dates for the semester. Make a set of example attendance cards showing these dates (Appendix).


Step 1:On the first day of class, give every student in your class an example attendance card and a blank cue card.

Step 2:Following the example cards, on one side, have each student write his or her first name in large letters (in Romaji), and on the other, his or her full name, student number, and the dates of all classes in the semester. (Other teachers using this system with slightly larger cards also have students fill in personal information such as hobbies or club activities.)

Step 3:Each student leaves their card on their desk with their name facing up so that you can use the cards to help you remember names, until you collect them afterwards, at a convenient time during the class.

Step 4:Before the start of the second class, shuffle the cards and place them randomly on desks, informing the students that they should find their own card and sit in that position, next to their new partner.

Step 5:When class starts, remind the students who are in attendance that day to circle that day’s date on their own card, and then begin with your lesson. With a brief glance, you can quickly calculate the number and identity of absent students, as an empty desk with a card can be easily spotted. Collect the absent students’ cards, putting a line through the date on those cards.

Step 6:Repeat this process every class, but in the first few weeks, be sure to allow a few minutes for students to introduce themselves with a speaking activity, otherwise the tension of sitting next to someone new without a chance to properly say hello could have an adverse effect.

Step 7:For security reasons, I transfer absentee information to an attendance list after each class. I also have students bring in photos of themselves to glue onto their attendance card. This not only allows the teacher to verify who the students are, but enables the teacher to study their names and faces outside class.


As students have a new partner every week, they break out of their cliques and quickly become more comfortable expressing opinions with all classmates. Overwhelmingly positive responses to this system are consistently observed, with usually only one or two students in a class showing dislike. Surveyed students’ comments included:

  • “I looked forward to [sitting] in this class. I enjoyed talking with my different partner every time.”
  • “Assigned seating makes us more friendly.”
  • “I could hear various ideas [from other students]. My English improved.”
  • “I hope this seat [system] will be adopted next year.”

Furthermore, through this system, numerous aspects of classroom management are simplified. Firstly, I never have to ask students to sit closer to the front, as I can decide the seating layout with the placement of cards. Secondly, I avoid wasting class time ensuring that students are sitting in groups of two, three or four for speaking activities, as this is also something that I can pre-arrange before class even starts. Thirdly, as I get to know students better, I can become selective with card placements, avoiding partnerships that lead to unnecessary chatter, partnering weaker students with stronger students, or ensuring male and female students sit together.

The fact that attendance is collected every class, without ever calling a roll, becomes secondary to the received benefits in student interactions and ease of classroom management. If this system is not already in place at your school, I encourage you to try it and share it with others.