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More On Learning Student Names

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

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Message #91 on learning student names generated a number of responses.

Here are a few with specific additional suggestions.


Rick Reis

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Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning


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On learning the names of students, here's what I do with my physics

classes from small to large:


I ask each student to fill out a 3x5 card, providing his/her name, where

from, year in college, major (or tentative), past physics and quality,

past math and quality, what after a bachelor's degree, hobbies, and

(optional) something that tends to make him/her special or unique.

In a class under about 70, I'll actually call the names (maybe sometimes

reciting some of the information) for the first several days, until I get

their names and faces associated. Probably takes a total of about an hour

of classtime. I'll also hand back the exams person-by-person (about

10-15 minutes per exam).

In a larger class, whenever someone comes to office hours, I ask his/her

name, pull out his/her card, and have a sort of "introductory

conversation". It seems to work fairly well. Those students interested

in interacting with me are encouraged. It also works a marvelous effect

when a large class sees the instructor refer to a student by name during

the class.

Charles Buchanan

Professor and Academic Vice Chair

Physics and Astronomy



About learning students' names, I teach laboratory sessions which

have at most 24 students. Thats not too big, but still on the first day I

am faced with 24 faces that need to be associated with names in my head. I

start with going around the room with the roaster in my hand and asking

students their names. Then, after I have explained the experiment and

students are working leaving me free for a few moments, I go to my desk

and draw the arrangement of laboratory tables on a paper, and write down

as many names as I can remember, in appropriate positions. Then every time

someone asks me a question, I first ask their name again if I don't

remember, and again when I get a chance I secretely add to/modify my

record. I have seen that students tend to take the same places everytime,

and work with the same partners. So at the end of the class, when students

are handing in their reports to be graded, there I sit at my desk looking

innocent, but again noting the name on the report and the students' face

and their table. While grading lab reports at home again, since students

are supposed to record their partner's name on the report, I compare with

my little paper. Sometimes if I am sure about someone's name but not their

partner's, this is my chance! I make it a point to go a little before the

scheduled lab time and hand back the previous lab reports, refining the

associations in my head as I do that. Working this way, I usually have

their names memorized by third or fourth lab session. I have found that it

matters a lot to students that you know their names, and address them as

individuals, especially since I teach physics labs, where students do need

some human element. Its certainly worth the effort!

Sonali Tamhankar.

Associate Instructor,

Dept of Physics,

Indiana University, Bloomington.


Way to remember names:

1. I take roll call slowly and concentrate on each name the first day; the

second day, I try to get as many as I can on my own. I do that each day

until I know them all.

2. In Learning Skills, we do a very silly activity because it is important

for all to know each other to do the types of sharing needed for a

successful class: we stand in a circle and throw a ball around - each

person must say his/her name and the person to whom he/she will throw before

throwing the ball. The same person may not be thrown the ball twice in one

round. During this activity, not only do I learn everyone's name, but the

students learn each others' names. Sometimes I add variations, such as

having more than one ball going at once so as not to bore us.