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Learning Students' Names

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

Message Number: 


It may surprise you as to how many "good" things follow in teaching once

students realize that you know them by name. Such knowledge opens many

doors to further communication. You can learn the names of even hundreds

of students with a little practice. The posting below gives some

suggestions on how this might be done. It comes from the excellent

Teaching and Learning Center web site at the University of Nebraska,

Lincoln []. It is copyrighted by the

Center and reproduced with permission.


Rick Reis

UP NEXT: A Perverted Academic Reward System

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning




UNL Teaching and Learning Center


Tips and Techniques

Do you consider yourself "name-learning challenged?" Do you find it

difficult to think of a student's name when the two of you meet? Or is it

harder for you to match faces with the names of students on your class


Despite the feelings of anxiety associated with learning students' names

each semester, many instructors believe that knowing exactly who each

student is helps to improve the classroom climate. But many instructors

find learning students' names difficult and frustrating. If the classes are

large lecture classes, the problem may seem insurmountable.

Take heart! There are ways to achieve what seems impossible.

When it comes to new students, there are numerous tools you can use to

"jog your memory." Some methods work better for smaller groups, while

others may be used with large classes. Finding which works best for you

will take some trial and error. You'll need to experiment to find "the one"

which helps you the most. Here are some suggestions:


1. Have students sit in the same seats for the first few weeks until you

are able to match names with faces.


2. Have students give their name each time before they speak. This can be

continued until everyone (instructor and the students) feels they know the

people in the room.


3. Use students' names as often as possible.


4. Have a short quiz at the beginning of class over students' names.


5. Have students make name tags on the first day of class. 5" x 8" cards

work well for this. Students use heavy black or blue markers to write their

names on the bottom half of the card and then fold the card in half,

creating a tent name tag. Students keep the name tags with them and can

then place the tag in front of their seat during the following class



--Have instructors collect name tags at the end of the class. Instructors

hand out name tags at the beginning of the next few classes. As nametags

are handed out, the instructors try to match the name with the student, and

then check to see if their guess is correct.

--Have students wear name tags for the first two weeks of class.


6. Spend some time during the first day of class taking snapshots of all

of your students (a work study student could also take the photos). These

photos can be glued to the class roster next to the proper names. Or a

collage of pictures and names can be assembled on the door of the

instructor's office to help memorize names.


--Xeroxed photos can accompany the students name at the top of all

assignments that are handed in.

--Some schools have web pages where students' pictures can be posted. This

is a quick access way for instructors to test themselves.


7. Have students prepare a "Passport" for your class. Students glue a

snapshot on a notecard for the instructor. Instructors may want to

encourage students to use photos which showcase other personal items of the

student (i.e. a picture of the student with his/her pet). Additional

subjects in the photos help make the person memorable.

Beside their snapshot students are asked to write a variety of information

to help the instructor get to know the student. Information about the

students' likes and dislikes, background, and goals are especially helpful

memory hints.


8. Some instructors draw their students to help them remember who is who.

The sketches can be quick, 20 second scribbles capturing the most prominent

features of the student. These sketches can be placed in the class roster

next to the student's name for quick identification.


9. Strive to memorize a row of students per day. In the few minutes before

class begins, review what you've already memorized and then add another row

of students to that list.


10. Students with the same name as another person the instructor knows can

be associated with that person in the instructor's memory. This association

is a good memory-jogging tool.


11. Some students "look" the way instructors picture a person with that

name to look. (For example: "Jim" looks athletic, "Frank" seems very honest

and forthright, etc.) Be careful of stereotyping, though.


12. Have a few students introduce themselves. Then stop the introductions

and ask another student to name all the students who have been introduced.

Once the first few names have been recalled move on to a few more, and so

on until everyone has been introduced.


13. Have students sit in a circle. Each student must say his/her name and

give one identifiable characteristic. The next person has to give his/her

name and characteristic and repeat what the person before him/her said. And

so on around the circle until the person "unfortunate" enough to be last

(perhaps the instructor) must introduced recall all of those before



14. On a notecard students write the name they prefer to be called in

class. Below their name they are asked to write one sentence which will

make them memorable. The sentence could be used in a variety of ways: to

share a favorite quote, to describe a hobby, to tell about where they grew

up, or to let the instructor know something about their classroom "style."


15. Have students sit in the seats of their choice. Then, in order, ask

the students to go around the room introducing themselves by adding a

descriptive adjective to the front of their names which begins with the

first letter of their name. (i.e. Gross Greg, Awesome Alicia, etc.) The

next person must give his/her expanded name and then repeat all the names

given before him.


16. Work your way around the students and have the students introduce

themselves. After a student has given his/her name, ask him/her to give one

"outstanding physical feature" that distinguishes him/her from the rest of

the group. Restrictions: the features must be consistent over time and

visible from the front of the room. Students may give examples like "big

feet" from a person who likes to stretch out in the front row or "I smile a

lot" from a very self-assured person.


17. Have students pair up and introduce themselves. After a fair amount of

time, the partners are asked to introduce each other to the class. Special

points to address in the interview could be: the partner's name, major,

background, future goals, etc.

After 1/3 of the people have been introduced, ask the class to do a quick

recap of the people who have been introduced and then continue with



--Each student introduces his/her partner by giving the partner's name and

identifying one trait of the partner's that "no one can forget."


18. Students interview each other using questions such as unique traits,

unusual hobbies, proudest moment, most prized possession, most unusual

accomplishment, etc. Students then introduce their partner to the class.

After everyone has been introduced, it's time for a little memory test.

The instructor begins by stating his/her name as he/she holds on to the end

of a string from a ball of yarn. The instructor tosses the ball to someone

and says something like, "I'm tossing the ball to Greg because I remember

that Greg wrestles alligators in his spare time." The pattern continues

until everyone in the class is connected.

The class members then do the same thing in reverse as they untangle

themselves and talk about the person immediately before them.

(Option: While all class members are connected, the instructor may want to

use the connected students as a model to explain how the class will grow

from a collection of individuals to a network of educated students over the

course of the semester.)


19. Make up a sheet of fairly off-the-wall traits with blanks lines beside

them. Such as "Is wearing shoes that don't require laces," "Likes spaghetti

with clam sauce," or "Was born west of the Mississippi." This sheet is

handed to every student. Students are asked to wander around the room, find

a person with that trait, meet them and record their name. The one rule is

that a student can use a person only once to complete his/her sheet.


20. Put students in groups of four. Then challenge the group to come up

with five things they all have in common. Five is a nice odd number that

will require some discussion to achieve (if you require four things in

common, each member may just choose one and present it on behalf of the

group). The one restriction is that the students can't use school- or

work-related items. Personal items such as favorite music, books they've

read, where they've traveled to, etc. work best.


21. Ask students to get into groups of 2 or more. Each student must find

something in his/her wallet that would help the group understand who they

are. Although pictures are a satisfactory option, encourage the students to

search for the most creative things they can find.


22. A tip for large classes: dividing the entire group into smaller

"working groups" will help facilitate name recall. Classroom time can be

used to give small projects for each group to work on. Only having to

remember 8-9 people in a small group is much easier than looking at 250

faces. Work on visualizing which faces sit in which seats. Then work on

memorizing every name from a particular group.

All 250 names may not be memorized during the semester, but this method

may help you to learn more than you normally would.


23. On the other side of the argument, some instructors believe

personalizing the atmosphere by learning everyone's name is not required

for a positive classroom climate.

In large lecture classes, where students may feel overwhelmed by speaking

in front of the huge number of people in the room, anonymity may help. The

instructor may tell the students from the beginning, "I don't know any of

your names, and I couldn't possibly learn them. So I don't want anyone to

feel any inhibition about asking a question." This helps to assure students

that their remarks will not be permanently held above their heads because

others don't know who they are.


Name learning exercises not only helps instructors and students learn

about each other, but some of them can end up being extremely lighthearted

and funny. Try some of these suggestions for learning students' names. It's

also a good way to break the ice on the first day.


If, after struggling to learn your students' names, you find yourself

forgetting your own, remember:

* It's OK to not know everything! Instructors are human too, and they can

make mistakes just like anyone else.

* Roll up your sleeves and dive in! Learning a large number of names and

the faces that go with those names is a tough assignment. Be willing to put

extra effort into this one.

* Think positively! A good attitude will help anyone. Most of us can

remember 5-6 names at a time. Keep reminding yourself that you CAN learn a

few names at a time, and work to build on this skill.

* Be honest with your students! Let them know that you may have trouble

remembering who they are. Ask them to be patient. Most students will be

happy to help you learn if you are up front with them from the beginning.


Do you have some strategies or techniques that work well for you and that

you're willing to share? Let us know and we'll pass them on to your


? UNL Teaching and Learning Center