It doesn’t matter whether you teach kindergarten, fifth grade, high school, or at the university level; you want to learn your students’ names. Students will feel more engaged, positive, and accountable when you learn their names. Using each student’s name makes a personal connection, and is a sign of respect. Because you know their names, pupils begin respecting you, and care a little more about your course right off the bat. Class lists with photos, name tents, and name games will help you learn students’ names.
Modern school systems and universities usually give teachers a class list that includes a photo of each student. I know a caring elementary school principal, new to a building, who is learning all 500 students’ names in his school. He is using the class lists with photos to start. If this helps to remember 500 names, it ought to work for far fewer, right?
Before class begins, take some time to study the class list with photos. When students come in the first time, they will be flattered and positively impressed if you greet some of them by name. Unless you have a small class of 25 or less, you may not be able to learn all of the names from the photos before you meet them. That’s OK. At least you will have a head start, and kids will know you are making an effort. After you have one full session of class, review the photos and names to help you remember them. Review before your next class too. During class, when students are writing or reading, look the class over, and refer back to the list and photos to memorize the names.
This is a classic, and students usually enjoy it. Provide 8 ½ x 11 cardstock, markers, and crayons. Ask them to fold the card in half, and print their first names clearly in one inch high letters. Then have them decorate the name tents. Tell them to draw three things that tell about themselves, or draw three things they want to learn about in this class, or just have them creatively embellish the name tents.
If kids use binders, three-hole-punch the table tent name tags, so they can store them in their binders. Ask that students put the name tents out on the table in front of them, name facing out, so you and their classmates can learn their names. Use the name tents for the first several classes.
The time it takes to play a name game or two is an investment that will pay off throughout the course. A name game will not only help you learn the students’ names. It will also help build community by allowing students to know each other’s names. They will feel more ready to discuss and interact during class once they have shared a laugh and know each other’s names.
My successful colleague, Kevin, uses this game with both fourth graders and adult college students. Have pupils stand in a circle, facing in. Ask each person to state their name, along with a physical movement that goes with each syllable of the name. Students make up their own simple movements. For instance, Carrie has two syllables. Hers could be as simple as stepping forward twice, once for each syllable, as she says her name.
Each person says their name as they do their unique movement. Then, everyone in the circle repeats the name and movement. Turns are taken until everyone has done it. Repeat this quick game at the beginning of each class. You may find that having a kinesthetic movement attached to the beat of students’ names will help you remember quite effectively.
Making the effort to remember your students’ names pays off. Students will connect and engage with you and the learning material better because they will feel welcome in your class. Invest in the time it takes to learn students’ names, and reap the benefits throughout the term.