We all know how difficult it is to memorize the names of our students. Especially after several years of teaching it can seem as though we’re seeing similar faces each semester. But addressing a student as “you there in the second row” or calling them Jake when they’ve insisted multiple times they prefer Jacob can convey poor listening skills or a lack of care. Begin your semester with good first impressions by making every effort to learn student names within the first few weeks. Be candid with your students about how difficult it is to learn new names when you’re teaching three or four classes or one or two large classes. But make a concerted effort to show students that you care about creating quality faculty-student interactions. Check out the teaching and learning tip below prepared by Dr. Steven Hansen on this very subject:
Excellence, Duquesne University
Instructors who learn their students’ names and use them in class build better student-faculty rapport, decrease the number of student absences, and bolster student participation (Sleigh & Ritzer, 2001).
“While it is difficult to learn students’ names in large classes,
an earnest attempt and even moderate success doing so,
is extremely salient to students.”
Here are some strategies that can help you to learn and remember student names:
1. Make it a priority
” Focusing on any goal is the first step towards making it happen” (Mckinney, 2006).
2. Study your course roster before the first class
Begin familiarizing yourself with the students’ names. If you can memorize the roster of names, associating the faces of students with the names becomes easier. At the first class, tell students to give you their last name and then you tell them their first name
3. Get to know something about each student
Many Duquesne faculty members distribute blank index cards and ask students to give their name, nickname, hometown, major, year in school, etc. I liked to ask students to tell me something about themselves such as hobbies, pets, favorite foods, etc.
A variation on the student index card is to have students make a passport for the second class:
“This is an exercise in creativity and an opportunity for you to get to know about the student as well as their name. Using an old notecard, have the student make a passport or document that tells about them. They must include a personal picture (a snapshot is okay), some information about their likes and dislikes, and something about where they have been and where they are going. This is especially helpful later, when the student calls and asks for a recommendation…you can use the card to jog your memory.” (Middendorf, 1997)
4. Include the class in learning names
“The student sitting at one of the corner desks at the front of the room begins by taking the first letter of their name and selecting an adjective that begins with the same letter. Examples include: ‘Gross Greg’ or ‘Awesome Alicia.’ The second person has to repeat the first person’s name preceded by its alliterative adjective and then gives their own. The third person repeats from the beginning and adds her own moniker to the game. When all of the students have participated I recount them all back by adding my own name at the end. It may or may not be your cup of tea, but it’s an effective device that is always good for a few laughs.” (Middendorf, 1997)
5. Use nametags or name tents, and /or a seating diagram
If remembering names is difficult for you, have students make a name tent to display at their desk or design a seating chart that reflects the arrangement of the seats in the room. Some faculty members ask students to keep the same seat until they have memorized students’ names and faces.
6. Schedule group meetings
“I teach a class of 72-75 students every spring. Starting with the second week of class, for one week I have small group meetings with seven students at a time. I learn a little about them and they learn one another’s names. I take their picture as a group as well.” (Middendorf, 1997)
Now it’s your turn to share. What strategies have you tried that have helped you retain those ever elusive student names?
Mckinney, Mary. (2006). Learning your students’ names. Tomorrow’s Professor #752
Middendorf, Joan. (1997). Learning student names. The National Teaching and Learning Forum
Sleigh, Merry and Ritzer, Darren. (November 2001). Encouraging Student Attendance. Association for Psychological Science Observer.