Although learning student names may seem a trivial matter compared with the scope of everything else you must accomplish, it is a powerful means of fostering teacher/student and student/student relationships. An instructor who doesn't know his students’ names can be perceived as distant and unapproachable.
However, an instructor who recognizes a student by name and engages him in conversation sends the signal that he is interested in the student’s success and is committed to building rapport in the class. Here are several ideas for remembering your students' names.
Simple Solutions to Learning Names
- Name Tents: For a large class, fold a standard 8.5x11 sheet of paper to make a triangular tent to write names on. Bring Sharpies so that the names are easily readable.
- Learn Correct Pronunciations: Get the pronunciation right on the first day. Write a phonetic transcription on your cheat sheet. CalPoly's guide to pronouncing Asian names* may help you to pronounce some names of your international students.
- Digital Photos: Take digital photos of students that you can attach to their first day questionnaires or information cards.
- Seating Charts: Make a quick seating chart at the beginning of each class that you can refer to.
- Class Roster: Make a copy of your roster that you can make notes or sketches on.
- Names on Drawing Boards: Have students write their names on the corner of their drawing boards.
Dynamic Activities for Learning Names
Play the Name Game**: Give the students three classes to learn each other's names. Encourage them to help each other in the learning process. Start by having seven to ten students introduce themselves and then ask an individual in the group to name another individual.
- For example: "Luke, which one of these people is Rick?" "Rick, point to Susan." "Susan, what is the name of the person sitting next to Attila?" If Susan doesn't know the name of the person next to Attila, say, "Ask Attila" or "Ask Luke!" Anyone might be made responsible for an answer at any time—and everyone knows that someone nearby can be counted on for help. Play this game at the beginning or at the end of the first class meeting. You can also interject it into the middle of a long class, just to shake up people's minds and get their attention revved up.
Kinesthetic Name Game: Students learn best when they can use many learning modalities. This activity combines movement (kinesthetics) with auditory learning. Students stand in a circle. One at a time, students say their names and something that they like to do that starts with the same sound as their name. Each student also makes a motion to signify the activity they've chosen.
- For example: Student 1 says, "My name is Zac and I like to zoom." The student then makes an airplane motion. Student 2 says, "That's Zac and he likes to zoom." Student 2 makes the 'zoom' motion. "I am Nicole and I like to knit." (Makes knitting motion.) Student 3 says, "That's Zac and he likes to zoom." (Makes 'zoom' motion.) "That's Nicole and she likes to knit." (Makes knitting motion.) "And I'm Micah and I like to munch." (Makes chewing motion.) And so on. The teacher starts the activity by giving an example with her name.
Mnemonics: A mnemonic is a trick that can help students remember names and other important information. Ask your students to give you a mnemonic to help you and the other students remember their names. (e.g. "Joe from Ohio"; Jack—Jack sprat could eat no fat—he's skinny) Or, consider bringing in scissors, paper and bold markers to allow for more creative solutions. The following activity can be done individually or in groups. Students take 5-10 minutes to present a drawing, song, poem, phrase or word to help everyone learn their names. Encourage students to help each other develop an idea. At the end of class, see if anyone can remember all of the names.
- Natasha holds up a drawing of a mustache while reciting two lines from a Groucho Marx song: "Natasha, in spite of your prominent mustach-a, Natasha, I love you!"
- Soo, a student who wears glasses, draws a picture of herself, incorporating her name so that the round frames of her glasses form the two O's in her name.