With each new school year, teachers everywhere face the daunting task of learning the names of all their new students. Whether you teach a single grade level class of 20 students or you teach multiple classes of art, music or PE and see the entire school every week, you’ll want to learn your students’ names fast…. and the faster the better!
I’m convinced that no single thing builds trust and a positive classroom climate better than knowing your students. And being able to call them each by name is a big part of that.
When a teacher makes the effort to learn a student’s name, it shows the student they are valued and important. They learn that they matter to their teacher. Connections and strong bonds rarely develop without this. Improved behavior and a healthy classroom environment are the result, and who doesn’t want that??!
At the annual Teachers Pay Teachers conference in Nashville last month, I had the opportunity to quiz dozens of teaching professionals about their best tips and tricks for learning students’ names.
Throughout the tips they shared, I found a common thread of repetition using three basic strategies:
Seeing. Saying. Hearing.
Below are some suggestions you can try for each of these strategies. No single technique will work for everyone, but I hope you’ll find at least one idea you can implement to help you learn those new names fast!
1. Seeing the Names
Class roster – Study your class roster before school starts. Rewrite names so they’re in A-B-C order by first name, not last. Becoming familiar with names and spellings will make matching names with faces that much easier! After you meet your students, make notes on your roster regarding pronunciation and any comments you may want to add to jog your memory. Add small photos if you have room. You can even make flash cards with a photo on one side and name on the other. Keep reviewing these until you’ve got them down!
Name tents – Fold a piece of card stock in half “the hamburger way” (that would be width-wise), then fold in half again. Unfold and bend one of the folds back the other way so that all 3 folds are going the same direction. Slide one end flap under the other and tape or glue. Voila! A perfect tent!! Next have students write their names on their tents LARGE enough to be read from across the room and decorate their tent to personalize it. Bubble letters are great for decorating! Have them do this on both sides. As they work, walk around and start associating names with faces!
Name tags – If your students are very mobile and don’t sit in one spot for long, it can help to have them wear name tags for the first few days (or weeks, if you only see them once a week). For very young students (grades K & 1), a name tag on their front and back can be really helpful! Reusable name badges that you pass out and collect after each class can be a huge time saver!
Seating Charts – This is especially helpful if you see multiple groups of students and not just a single class. Some teachers seat students in A-B-C order (by first name) until they learn their names. You can make notes about pronunciation here, too!
Take photos to study from – Take photos of students individually or in small groups and write their names on their photos. Make a poster and put it up where you’ll see it throughout the day. Subs will appreciate this, too!
Name art – In addition to making name tents, elementary students enjoy making acrostics (writing their name vertically and adding a descriptive adjective off to the right that starts with each of the letters of their name). Other popular name art projects to try are Kaleidoscope Lettering, Graffiti Names, Name Tangles, Stained Glass Name Designs, and Name Aliens.
3×5 cards – Have students write their names at the top of a 3×5 card and then write something that makes them memorable below it…. a hobby, experience, proud moment, prized possession, etc. Collect these and study them!
Yearbooks – If your school has a yearbook, study your incoming class before the new school year begins.
Label everything you can – Label books, binders, wall hooks, desks, cubbies, etc. with students’ names. The more you see a name and associate it with a student, the faster you’ll remember it.
Write names on papers first – Have students write their names on their papers first, before beginning their work, so as you walk around you’re seeing their names again and again.
2. Saying the Names
Taking roll – When you take roll, rather than have students answer, “Present!”, have them answer you by repeating their name. This way you not only hear it again, but you hear the correct pronunciation, too. Make sure you look up to see their face when they answer you!
Use their names often – Use their names as you greet them coming in, pass back papers, call on them in class, etc. Basically, every chance you get!
Ask for hints – If you can’t remember a student’s name, always ask! Ask them to give you a hint, and not just tell you. And in cases where they do tell you, repeat it back to them to check your pronunciation and so you can hear yourself say it again.
Test yourself – Have students turn their name tags over or hide their name tents as you attempt to say everyone’s name without any help. Let students have a turn after you if they want to. Make it a goal for the whole class and have a party when everyone succeeds!
3. Hearing the Names
Have students talk about their names – Ask students to introduce themselves and tell you how they got their names, if they know. This can be a fun writing assignment, too. If they don’t know, have them make something up and see if their classmates can guess which stories are “fiction” and which are “non-fiction”. You can also ask students to give you a way to remember their names…. you’ll get some interesting responses! Or ask for an interesting fact or something that makes them unique. The more you learn about your students the faster their names will stick!
Say name before speaking – Have students say their names before asking or answering a question, or before speaking in morning meetings. Many college professors do this in their larger classes to help everyone learn each others’ names.
Play a “Listening Game” – Introduce yourself, then student #1 introduces himself and you, then student #2 introduces herself, plus student #1, plus you, etc. Go around the room beginning and ending with the teacher. This game reinforces the names for everyone! An extension of this is the Alliteration Game…. where each student says their name and something they like to do that begins with the same letter, for example, “I’m Sarah and I like swimming.” Then the next person repeats what the first person said and adds their own, then #3 adds theirs and repeats what #2 and #1 said, going all the way around the room. Want to extend this even further? Add a physical movement to go with each alliteration!
Play a “Silent Line-Up” Game – Without speaking have students line up in A-B-C order. When they think they’re in the correct position, have each one say their name out loud. Younger students can have a card with their name printed on it that they silently show to each other to get in the right position, then they hold up their cards and say their names aloud when they’re all in the correct order.
Play catch – Have students sit on their desks as you throw a ball to them one at a time. When they catch the ball they say their name and throw the ball back to you…. another fun way to connect names with faces!
As with anything you want to learn, repetition and practice are the key!! Make it your mission and commit to learning as many names as you can each day. Tell your students how important it is to you and be up front about it if it doesn’t come easily! Weave some of these techniques and strategies into your day and you’ll be learning those names and having fun doing it!
When it comes to learning names… the more you see them, say them, and hear them, the faster you’ll learn them!