Have you ever had difficulty remembering your students’ names? Perhaps not if you teach small classes, but if you teach large classes and only see them once a week, then you may have struggled with this. I teach classes of 30+ students, and have taught classes of over 70, so finding ways to remember my students’ names has been important for me. And I know from emails that some of you have classes of over 100 students. So what are good ways to remember your students’ names?
Students at a school in Guatemala
You could just give up! But there are very good reasons not to. Classroom management becomes easier when you know all your students’ names. Second, names are important to everybody, and for a teacher not to know a student’s name can be demotivating for that student. Third, it’s easier to remember the needs of individual students if you know their names.
The principle for learning students’ names is straightforward, and the same as for learning any vocabulary: repetition, usage and an interest (in this case, in your students as individuals). You need to find ways to see, hear and use their names often. But how?
Have your students place namecards on their desks. This could be a piece of paper folded into a tent with their name on one side or they could stick the namecard to their desk or shirt.
Plan of Names
Draw a plan of the classroom layout on a sheet of paper and write the names of your students in the appropriate places. This can work well, especially if your students always sit at the same desks. Even when students choose their own seating, it still works to some extent because groups of friends usually sit together, and some students have a strong preference for a particular part of the classroom.
When I taught children this was more straightforward, but after I began teaching at university where students always choose their seats and sometimes move around, I found I had to bring blank plans in for the first few weeks as I was learning their names.
Take Photos of Your Students
Do this at the beginning of term, preferably before class or during the break. Having pictures can be a great way to remember, but make sure you label them all.
Take an Interest in Your Students
Find out about them, without being too intrusive. Discover their interests, abilities and experiences. The more you know someone, the less they’re just a name on a register. You can do this by chatting to your students before class and during the breaks, but there are also some specific classroom activities which can help…
Have the students introduce themselves at the beginning of term. This could be done in class, although if you have seventy students you’ll have to choose just some of them each class, otherwise it would obviously take too much time.
Find Five Things in Common
Have your students find things in common (experiences, abilities, likes/dislikes) in pairs or small groups. They can then report back to the whole group (using each others names). With larger classes reduce the number to three things in common, or just have the students report back one or two items.
Repetition of the names also helps…
Good with children, but it can work with older students. “My names’s Bob.” “Bob. My name is Jane.” “Bob, Jane. My name is Tony.” And so on…
Name Chain + Adjective
The same as above but have the students choose an adjective with the same initial letter as their name. “I’m Brave Bob.” “Brave Bob, I’m Just Jane.” “Brave Bob, Just Jane, I’m Terrific Tony…”
Similar to the above two activities. Something like this: “Bob likes dogs, Jane likes lions, Tony likes monkeys and I like dolphins.” Of course the vocabulary can be what you or the students want, and the structures can be changed to ‘has,’ ‘has eaten xx,’ ‘would like to xx,’ etc.
Helpful to remembering students names is to have your students repeat them often. Here is a method for doing this (fairly) naturally.
Ask Students to Use Each Others Names
When students ask questions to other students in open pair activities have them preface the question with the other student’s name. “Jenny, have you ever swum in a river?” for example.
These are just some ideas to help you learn your students’ names more easily and rapidly, so building a stronger relationship with your students and so helping to motivate them. If you have extremely large classes you may never remember every name–especially if you only teach them once a week, but I hope some of these methods can at least help you learn more names than before.