20 Ways to Learn Students’ Names

Do you struggle to learn your students’ names? The largest class that I have ever had in Canada was 46 students. I know in many parts of the world, class sizes are much larger than this. In a few weeks, I will be heading off to Guyana to teach report writing and presentation skills. There will be 3 different groups with more than 50 per group! I will definitely need to use some of the techniques below to learn participants’ names.

I believe that it is very important to learn students’ names for several reasons. Think about a time when someone acknowledged you by name, or got your name wrong. I have been called Patrick or Patricia many times over the years. I have to say that I do appreciate it when someone gets my name right!

Getting to know the names of our students quickly is important so that we can develop a rapport. Knowing and using students’ names helps to establish a more comfortable, less formal atmosphere in class and shows an interest in your students as individuals. Learning and remembering everyone’s name is a sign of respect.
 Here are 20 ways to learn students’ names:

  1. Use name tents or cards

Ask students to write their names in large letters on both sides of a folded 5 x 8 index card and to keep this card on their desks for the first few classes. Collect the name tags at the end of the class and then hand them out at the beginning of the next few classes. As nametags are handed out, try to match the name with the student, and then check to see if you are right.

2. Seating charts

Ask students to sit in the same place for a few classes to help you learn their names. 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.

3. Photos

Spend some time during the first day of class taking photos of all of your students. 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 to help memorize names.

4. Learn a few names at a time

Use the time before and after class to learn 5 to 10 names. (Many teachers try to get to know their students by inviting them to their office for a brief 5 minute chat. I have done this with very small classes).

5. Greet Students

Stand at the door and greet students as they arrive (or at the end of class, do the reverse). Make sure you greet them by name.

6. Ask students to write something about themselves

Ask students to tell you something to make themselves to make their names more memorable, e.g., where they are from, what they like to read or do for fun, or their long-term goals.

7. Ask students to introduce each other to the class

Give students 2–3 minutes in pairs to interview each other and discover something that “no one can forget or something very unusual about them”. I often use the example of a special talent or something unusual (e.g. won a gold medal in the Olympics, can speak 5 languages).

8. “Playful” repetition

One successful strategy requires each student to say her name as well as the names of all the students in front of her. For example, the first student would say “I’m Ann” and the second student would say “I’m Jose, that’s Anna,” etc. By the time it’s the last student’s turn, everyone’s name has been repeated (and corrected for pronunciation) several times.

9. Circle Game

Another memory aid starts with the students in a circle. One student tosses a ball or object across the circle while saying the name of the person catching the ball. Everyone must catch the ball before anyone touches it twice. Once everyone has been named, ask the students to see how fast they can repeat the process without dropping the ball or forgetting a name. For variety, use two balls simultaneously. Complete both exercises by trying to name every student.

10. Alliterating Adjectives

Ask each student to pick an adjective which starts with the same letter as their first name and also defines a personal characteristic, e.g. Enthusiastic Ellen or Gregarious Greg. The alliteration is fun and serves as a mnemonic for remembering their name. Ask the students to introduce themselves and explain their choice of adjective. I was in a workshop where the facilitator used this method and it worked very well.

11. Alphabetic Line-Up Game

At the beginning or end of class, ask students to line up alphabetically. They have to remain silent! Fun but challenging!
12. Say Your Name
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.
13. Say Their Name
Use students’ names as often as possible. “Thank you Lee”. “Great answer Suki”. 
14. Quiz
 Have a short quiz at the beginning of class over students’ names.
15. Hello, My Name is…
 Have students wear name tags for the first two weeks of class.
16. Passports
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.
17. Things in Common
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).
18. Small Groups
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.
19. Say it Silently
When students are writing, reading quietly, or working in pairs or small groups, spend this time saying each person’s name silently three times as your eye roams from one end of the room to the other. Keep the same order of saying names a couple of times, and then try to connect names with faces randomly in no particular pattern.

20. Names on Assignments

Assign several short written assignments in the first week; practice names (“Here you are Amandeep”) as you return papers.
 If you have other ideas, please send them to me so I can add them to the list.

Learning Students’ Names plus 25 other tips for new teachers is included in my A-Z Guide: How to Survive and Thrive as a New ESL/EFL Teacher. This A — Z Guide (70 pages packed with useful information, tools and strategies) also includes tips from experienced English language teachers from around the world https://patrice-palmer.mykajabi.com/offers/bueP4RZF

Patrice Palmer, M.Ed., M.A., TESL has 20 years’ experience as an ESL Teacher, TESL Trainer, and Curriculum Writer in Canada including 7 years in Hong Kong. Patrice has taught students from 8 to 80 years in a variety of programs such as ESP, EAP, Business English, and language programs for new immigrants in Canada. Patrice now works as a teacherpreneur doing the things that she loves such as writing courses, sharing teaching materials, instructional coaching and travelling at any time of the year to conduct short-term training around the world. Please visit https://patrice-palmer.mykajabi.com for free teaching resources.