Why learn our students’ names? From the students’ perspective, it can make them feel more like the instructor cares about them and wants to get to know them individually. It also lets them know that, especially in larger classes, they are more accountable for their behavior and performance in class. “The professor knows our names” is regularly cited as a strength in small-group instructional diagnoses (student focus groups) at Miami (http://blogs.miamioh.edu/sgid/). From the instructor’s perspective, it can make her or him more comfortable calling on students and/or responding to them as individuals. By an instructor’s consistently attempting to learn and use students’ names in class, students learn each other’s names as well, which can promote better interaction in class or group activities. Using names personalizes the classroom experience. Perhaps the most compelling reason for learning students’ names is that students are more likely to be engaged in classes in which instructors know their names.
What follows are some strategies for learning students’ names that may work in any size classroom.
1. On the first day of class, make a game out of learning students’ names. If the class is smaller (under 25 or so), students might be asked to sit in a circle and recite their names one by one. Then the instructor attempts to go around the circle and name as many students as possible, getting help from students as needed until all students are named. Then ask each student to do the same. In larger classes, students might be divided into smaller groups for the same procedure.
2. Challenge students to get you to remember their name by making a connection with you, asking questions, stating their name when participating, etc. You might ask your classes to devise a name-learning strategy to use in the class.
3. Ask students to sit in the same seat for the first three weeks of class while you learn their names. Have them also make a table-tent that has their name on it in large letters to place on their desk. The visual association of where students sit in class and the table-tent helps with learning names while taking attendance, calling on them in class, etc.
4. Take individual photos of students and put their names on the back of the photo. Then practice using the photos like flash cards: Look at the face and recall the name. You may have student photos in your LMS, so you can use those the same way. Remember to practice leisurely in spaced sessions (“spaced practice”) and not to cram!
5. Practice learning students’ names while they are working in groups, perhaps again using table tents at their desks. Learning 4-6 names at a time is much less intimidating than trying to learn the entire class roster and makes it possible to keep rehearsing the smaller group of names until they’re mastered.
6. To make students’ name learning a bit more personal and informative, hand out 3X5 cards and have students put their name, major, contact information, and one piece of unusual information about themselves on the card. This can be a hobby, pet, something they have accomplished, etc. Then ask them to paste a photo of themselves on the card. This allows them to get into the act of creating a unique persona and helps them appreciate the difficulty of memorizing so many names. This approach provides information that enables you to make a connection with each student even before you enter the classroom again.
7. There is a free app called Teacher’s Aide (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/teachers-aide-attendance-gradebook/id510174556?mt=8) for the iPad and iPhone that allows you to use your device to take student pictures for use in taking attendance. It compiles a table of photos and names, and you just press the student’s photo for attendance — one tap for present, another for absent, and a third for late. You can have up to 3 classes for free. In smaller classes the instructor can pass the iPad around and let students take their picture and type in their name. This app also offers grading features too.
Use the space below to share additional strategies for learning students’ names that you have discovered or heard about!