Week 1 Day 1 – Name Tents with Feedback


UPDATE May 2020:  In the era of Remote/Distance/eLearning, teachers have stepped up to adapt this activity for use when we are not in our classrooms with our students.  If you are interested in their ideas, scroll down to the bottom of this post to see more and get links to what they have created.  

Last year I taught Advanced Algebra (your might call this course Alg 2 or Alg/Trig) at a school new to me.  I was smart-I entered the year relying on the expertise of those that had taught Adv Alg recently (for me it had been 11 years ago).  Every day last year I co-planned my Advanced Algebra lessons with Morgan – the same Morgan I blogged about who made our Backwards Bike.    I have had a lot of first days of schools in my career but nameI know I can learn more.  I asked Morgan what she did day 1.  She said she uses name tents and for the first week of school she writes a quick note to students responding to whatever they put inside the name tent.  I had not done this before, but I thought – ‘I’m game’.

Why Morgan choose to use name tents in her high school classroom for the first week of school matches the best practices about teaching urban students, students in poverty or students of color (and frankly it is good for all students).   We must build relationships with students.  We must work hard to know our students.  Students grow more through feedback vs. a number/letter grade.  We must create a community of learners in our classroom.  We must make our classrooms safe spaces for everyone.

Morgan, and several other  of my new peers, did not start our first official district math unit for Adv Alg until day 6 or 8 or 10 of school.  Morgan’s goals for week 1 is simply to build relationships with  her students and create community with the entire class. (and she also does some math).  Here is one way how Morgan did this and how it played out in my own classroom.

Here was my very first slide of class day 1 of school last year in our High School Math Classrooms..

first slide of last year

At the table were 4-5 sheets of white card-stock with printing on one side (to be folded inside) and markers.  I asked students to record their first name on both sides.

Here is the original of this document from last year. (note, I’ve changed it a bit for this year and attached it further down in the post):  NameTentFeedback  This document is the exact Word Doc Morgan gave me.  I asked Morgan if she created this or received it from someone else.   Morgan received this from one of the AVID leaders in our school, Tonya Hodge (a ELA teacher).

After having students make a name tent, I posted our very first learning target for Day 1. I asked them to introduce themselves to the people they were sitting with.  (I start the year with an alphabetical seating chart and change it after week 1).

learning target day 1

I told my class that their first class assignment for week one in Advanced Algebra was to learn the first names of every student in our class. Day one their task was to learn at least 5 new names.  My class had 9th/10th/11th and 12th grade students in it.  Most did not know the names of more than 1/4 of the class.  Morgan’s goal and my goal was to build a community of math learners week 1.

Side note:  Building community during the first week of school is a very normal thing to do in Middle School – it has not been my experience that it is as common in HS math classrooms.  Morgan does not know it, but she has some natural MS skills.

We went on winoticeth our day 1 activities.  If you are wondering about the rest of my day 1 activities, here is a PDF of how it played out in my room.  AA Day 1 of school slides. (If you look at it you will notice I told them about myself – stealing ideas from old Dan Meyer Posts with a bit of Jo Boaler and a little notice/wonder).  I also blogged about another part of my day 1 lesson yesterday HERE.

With 10 minutes left of class, I had the class look around and learn the names of students not at their table.  I then asked for one volunteer to stand up and say the first names of at least 5 people in class as we covered our name tents.

During the last 5 minutes of class, I finally had the class open their name tent and write me a note in the yellow highlighted box about anything they wanted to on day one. What is below is a copy of what was inside their name tents.

feedback form

That afternoon I wrote a response back to every single student in my classroom.  Here is a few random things students wrote on day 1.  I love the variety of responses from my students.

By the end of day 4, here is what the inside of each student’s name tents looked like with y comments:


As you can see, I did not write a ton to each student, what was important is that I wrote something.  What was important is every day I spent 1-2 minutes intentionally reading what every student was thinking and responding to it.  Not only did it help me learn names even a bit quicker, I also learned things about my students and their relationship to my class.

Here are a couple of things I learned after using name tents in my HS math classroom week 1 of school.

  1. I have homework assignments I use during week 1 that have students write a lot more about themselves.  This does not replace those, this was a great addition.  It had the added bonus of having me give immediate feedback to students.
  2. After 3 days of a prompt of ‘comments’ – some student’s were queswriting very little or things like “It was OK”.  On day 4 at the last minute I asked students to ‘Ask me a question’ instead of writing a comment and I would answer anything they asked me either about this class or about me personally.  This worked GREAT.  I received a lot of great questions.  I responded to everyone as honestly as I could.  In addition I put up several questions for the entire class to see so everyone could get feedback on what their peers asked of me.  I have made a new & improved Name Tent for this year’s first week of school (bottom of post) that includes having students ask me a question.  Here are a few questions that students asked me.  Love them.
  3. Despite reading and responding to students everyday with what they wrote in their name tents – I still missed clues that they sent me  I re-looked at the name tents to write this post and I noticed some information my students sent me that I ignored.  For example, look at the inside of this student’s tent:  jasper    Here was the outside back of his tent – it was beautiful:

    What I know now about this student now that I missed week 1 is that he worked best in math class when we were doing something more creative.  This student did the least amount of homework & classwork of any student I had this year until 2/3 of the year when I did my Desmos Art Project and he created this in 24 hours:jaspers bike  Looking back I wish I would have noticed his amazing doodles in week 1 and used this as a clue to build lessons to engage him sooner.  I will change this – this year.  (I have also changed this year’s name tent to encourage drawing as an option to responding to me).

  4. I know many people reading this may think, “Sara, name tents are totally cool, but I just don’t have the time to do them.”.  Let me encourage you that this was totally worth the time I spent on the them.  During the first week of school last year I was not only teaching all day, I would leave school each day and go to the Minnesota State Fair to work at our Math On-a-Stick booth in the evenings.  I was BUSY.  I still did this and I was so glad I did.  I HIGHLY encourage you to consider using these name tents OR do something else week 1 to hear daily from every student AND for you to give them feedback.
  5. I did read my name tents again at the end of September once I knew my students a bit better and I learned a lot more.  I plan to do this again this year.  I also may find a way to do something similar to get more student comments like this in October or November this year.
  6. Every day during week 1 I spent time (5 minutes) having students learn EVERY first name of every student in the class.  In fact I tested them on it week 2. Each day I had 1-2 groups stand up and introduce their group to the class.  I would say 60% of my students knew every name by day 6 and another 35% knew at least 80% or more of the names.  It was great for community in the classroom.  Students responded later in quarter 1 that they appreciated that other students knew their name.

I would love to hear what you do to build relationships with your math students week 1.  What do you do to give students feedback?  How do you build community in your classroom?  These are some of the important goals I have week 1.  I am always looking for more ideas.  Have a great start to your school year.

The NEW & IMPROVED Name Tent for 2016-17: 2016 Name Tent for 1st week

Update 8.20.18:  The Name Tent is now translated into French thanks to Jocelyn Dagenais  You can download it here:  Tentes des noms 1re semaine (name tents in french)  

UPDATE #1 August 2019:  I often get asked about prompts for Name Tents.  I generally don’t give them other than saying something like this day 1 and 2 – “Everyone, please fill up the whole box with words or pictures about something you want me to know. (note:  My goal is to get students to say more than 3 words, so ‘filling up the boxes’ and ‘everyone’ is intentional) For example, you can tell me that you hate math or that your pet turtle is named t-rex or that you are at soccer practice every night and will not be able to do homework or that your favorite math word is perimeter or that you know how to juggle 9 flaming torches at once or…..tell me about a passion, something you care about, something you fear, something about this class or anything else you think it is important for me to know.”  I leave it relatively open to students because I want to hear what they want me to hear,  My goal is to study my students.

For those of you wanting prompts, there are lots of people on twitter who have shared examples.  Here are a few.  First a google Slide of 100 prompts for name tents from Kristen Fouss.  Amazing.  Here is a tweet from Jennifer White:


UPDATE #2 August 2019:  I often get asked, “My students want to continue with name tents but I can’t do this everyday.  What is your advice?”  After Chris Nho (he’s amazing) asked this online, I decided to ask the #mtbos community.  Click on the twitter thread below to see what they said!

UPDATE #3 September 2019:  An amazing, amazing math teacher, Sarah Streitz from Richfield HS, in Minnesota shared her Spanish version of the name tents with me.  Here it is for you.  Enjoy.  Spanish Name Tent (word doc)

UPDATE #4 September 2019:  Mary Bourassa blogged about keeping the conversation going.  A common question I get online about name tents.  Check out Mary’s solution HERE.

UPDATE #5 May 2020:  The world has changed due to COVID-19 and so must how we use Name Tents.  Check out these resources….

  1. Kristen Fouss has put Name Tents into Desmos so she can give Feedback to her students using this vehicle.  Thank you to Desmos and Kristen for improving on the ideas in this post.  Check out what Kristen did HERE (you can copy and adapt her work) on Desmos, and read comments when she posted on FACEBOOK.  Also, here are 100 prompts others have collected to use.
  2. My Friend Erica Heinzman in San Diego shared her google version of the form HERE...


  1. Nanette Johnson asked how to adapt Name Tents and a bunch of you responded with ideas of how to do it with Google resources within google classroom.  Check it out here:

The Idea below came out pre-COVID-19, but I loved how they adapted the form.  If you do this in Google Classroom – this form may be one you love.



Sara VanDerWerf

I am Sara Van Der Werf, a 24-year mathematics teacher in Minneapolis Public Schools. I have taught math in grades 7-12 as well as spent several years leading mathematics at the district office. I currently teach Advanced Algebra at South High School and I'm also the current President of the Minnesota Council of Teachers of Mathematics (MCTM). I am passionate about encouraging and connecting with mathematics teachers. I'd love to connect via twitter.  Join the community.  Tweet me @saravdwerf.

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