Okay, I cheat a little bit, but that's besides the point. The fact is, I can look out into my room, see someone with their head down and immediately call their name if I need to do so. What's my secret? Oh, it's not that magical. It's just assigned seats in alphabetical order. Have assigned seats on day one. Do not let them pick seats. I post their names on the board along with their seat number. They just have to find their seat and sit. There's always a bit of confusion, but I sort it out before I get going with the first day activities.
There are quite a few activities geared toward getting to know students in a timely manner. I highly recommend doing something fun. No one wants to stand at their desk, say their name and one special thing about them, sit down and watch everyone else. Boring. Here are a few activities I've used that I know work. Some of them might sound more elementary, but there's nothing that will get high school students as excited as getting to pretend like they are elementary students again. You don't want to know how many times they ask to play Heads Up Seven Up.
The M'n'M Game
Or Skittles. Whichever you prefer. The point is, get a small candy with different colors. The colors are the important part. Get a giant bag and have students pull out however many they want, but tell them they are going to do something with them. Some kids will see how this is going and will take one and go. Others will think "JACKPOT!" and grab about a dozen. Don't try to regulate it. Just go with it. Now that they have their candies, you post on the board that they will tell one thing about themselves for every candy. And for each color, it has to be a specific thing. You can do this however you want. Red can be about your family, blue is about hobbies, yellow is something you're scared of and on and on. Do whatever fits your classroom and your own personality. Take candies for yourself and be sure to follow the rules, too. Kids love to get to know you. The best part is, when it's all over, everyone gets to eat their candy!
The Toilet Paper Game
This one is really similar to the M'n'M Game, but there's no colors involved. Just have the kids take as many squares of toilet paper as they want. Again, you'll have those savvy kids who will take one square and smile knowingly as their neighbor spins the roll on their hand getting twenty sheets. Just go with it. Have them say something about themselves, anything, for each square. Again, take some yourself. This one is less fun than the M'n'M Game because you can't eat toilet paper. Well, you could, but would you want to?
This one is good for more laid back classes. I'm a pretty laid back teacher, so I do this one every year. Partner the kids with who is sitting next to them. Give them ten minutes to just chat. At the end of the ten minutes, they have to introduce their partner. Pretty simple. The only problem is that the kids don't really learn about you during this activity.
Step to the Line
I'm sure you've seen Freedom Writers. I believe Ms. Gruwell uses this in the film. It seemed like she did from the previews, but I never watched the actual movie. Put a piece of tape down the middle of your classroom and clear the desks to the side. Have students stand on either side. As you read a statement, have the students step to the line and then back for each that is true for them. You can start with easy, fun stuff like "I'd rather be in bed than here right now." If you want to work your way up to the troubling topics, you can. "I have lost a friend to gun violence." can be a tricky subject, but if you want to get to know your kids, you need to know that sad side, too.
Don't skip the getting to know you activities. Yes, the kids will be doing them all day. But you still need to get to know them, as well as the other teachers who are doing these activities. When you can, work with your coworkers to try not to do the same activities. Step to the Line loses it's punch on the fifth time through for the day.
Remember, getting to know your kids is just as important as getting down to business with learning for the year. Why should they bother to listen to you when you won't listen to them for a few days? Whenever possible, refer back to the information you learned to remind the kids to that you know them and you care about them.