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Learning Student Names

By flickr user DArcy Norman/ cc-licensed

Learning your students’ names quickly is a crucial element in building rapport, creating community within a discussion-based course, and facilitating many classroom management tasks like grading participation or attendance.    Even if you do not consider yourself to be naturally “good at names,” you can improve your recall by following a few simple tips.

  1. Commit to the goal of learning student names, ideally within a set timeframe.  I even announce my goal to my class, so they understand my efforts (see #3).
  2. Prepare before the first day of class.  Review your class roster several times, noting in advance names that might be difficult to pronounce if you call roll aloud.  If you are an auditory learner, read your roster aloud.  If you are a visual learner, you might try looking at it with a “soft focus” gaze for short periods in between reading sessions.  If you are a kinesthetic learner, try retyping the roster names.  Some campus information systems even give instructors access to student ID photos, which can help you begin to associate faces to names.
  3. Work on it during the first day of class.  Take a little extra time if you call roll aloud to jot down some identifying feature (hair color, glasses, etc) by each name on your roster.   Consider having students fill out index cards — either with neutral information like major or other courses this semester, or with answers to an open-ended question (“tell me 3 things about you”).  Explain that you will be using the cards to help you learn their names.  Ask students to say their names each time they ask a question or make a comment.  In a very small course, you could ask students to introduce themselves to the class.  Repeat names as often as you can (“Jenny’s question is important because…”).  Try calling roll again at the very end of class and see how many you can guess — make a game out of it.
  4. Review your roster and your notes as soon as possible after class.  Consciously work on recalling faces.  If you collect index cards, use those to help you associate some fact or detail with each student.
  5. Practice using names in class as often as possible.  Arrive a couple minutes early to the second class and try to get the names of the early arrivals.  Call roll for the first couple class meetings, even if you don’t do that throughout the semester.

Some other tips and strategies can be found at:

Got a good story about the importance of learning student names? Let us know in the comments!

[By flickr user D'Arcy Norman (CC-licensed)]

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