Teaching Tip #2: Naming Names

Do you routinely learn and remember your students’ names? There are some excellent reasons to develop this skill, since research shows that when instructors display a personal interest in students it positively affects class participation and learning. Students see instructors who know their names as more supportive and easier to approach with questions. Your student evaluations may even improve!

Some folks find remembering names very easy, others (including me) don’t. There are many strategies you can try during these first few weeks of class. Set yourself a deadline for learning all your students’ names to motivate you (if you’re really brave, tell your students when it is). While you’re at it, you can make sure they know your name too. Here are a few ideas to try – if you have one that works for you, please post it in the comments section.

Use student names in class

Try to use student names as often as possible (without sounding like an idiot).  For example,

  • Call the roll for the first several weeks rather than circulate an attendance sheet (look at each student as you call their name and try to associate something about them with their name)
  • Call each student by name as you hand back assignments• Use students’ names when you respond to their comments and questions
  • Ask students to say their name before asking a question or making a comment during class discussions and to call their classmates by name as well.

You may want to ask students to wear name tags or use name cards for the first couple of weeks, and ask for reminders as needed. When students know that you really care about learning their names, they will appreciate your effort and help you out.

Create a directory
It’s easier to remember someone’s name if you know a little bit about them. Write a brief introduction of yourself and post it to the Blackboard Discussion Board, along with your picture. Then, ask students to do the same. This is especially useful if you are planning to use the Discussion Board, since it helps students learn how to post to it. It’s great for online classes too. And, it takes no class time. Since students control what they choose to write about themselves and the site is only available to the class, you should not run into privacy issues. However, if you prefer, you can snap digital pictures and collect the information yourself, and create a private directory.     Hint: To post images to BB, you need to either have the picture online already or put it in your content collection. An easy way for most students to do this is to go on Facebook, pick a picture they want to use and copy the image location. Then tell them to click on the image icon in the Discussion Board screen and paste the url.

Play a name game
Name games do take up class time, but they can help a class develop rapport and have fun as well as learning each others’ names. Here are a few examples from an article in the National Teaching and Learning Forum (for the whole list, go to: http://www.ntlf.com/html/lib/bib/names.htm.)

Unforgettable Neighbor (by Ed Nuhfer)
Have students turn to their neighbor and introduce themselves. The assignment is for the neighbor to introduce their companion “with a trait that no one can forget.” Obviously the partners have to be helpful with a trait or mnemonic aid. Pick randomly from around the room for introductions. After a third person is introduced, point at those introduced while the class names the individual. Continue with the introductions and cumulative reviews. The repetition in reviews really helps.

Alliterative Adjective Name Game (by Tim Kennedy)
The student sitting at one of the corner desks at the front of the room begins by taking the first letter of their name and selecting an adjective that begins with the same letter. Examples include: “Gross Greg” or “Awesome Alicia.” The second person has to repeat the first person’s name preceded by its alliterative adjective and then gives their own. The third person repeats from the beginning and adds her own moniker to the game. When all of the students have participated I recount them all back by adding my own name at the end. It may or may not be your cup of tea, but it’s an effective device that is always good for a few laughs.

The Name Game (by Bonnie Kendall)
Lots of professors play a variant of The Name Game, but my version is based on what I call “the group mind” technique. I tell the students that we have three weeks to learn each other’s names and that we are all responsible for insuring that everyone does it. I explain that cultures all over the world have developed strategies for insuring the social distribution of knowledge, such that if one person is lost, the knowledge is retained somewhere else in the group (you can skip this step if you teach, say, engineering and don’t want to talk about fuzzy stuff like culture). I encourage them to help each other in the learning process.
Start by having seven to ten students introduce themselves and then ask an individual in the group to name other individuals: “Luke, which one of these people is Rick?” “Rick, point to Susan.” “Susan, what’s the name of the person sitting next to Attila?” If Susan doesn’t know the name of the person next to Attila, I’ll say “Ask Attila!” or “Ask Luke!” In doing it this way, I can keep everyone on his or her tippytoes, because anyone might be made responsible for an answer at any time — and everyone knows that someone nearby can be counted on for help. No one is made to feel stupid, because the entire group helps out.
At the beginning (and sometimes at the end) of each class in the designated period, we play the name game: “Susan, is Attila here today?” “Bob, what is the name of that woman coming in the door?” “Kathy, point to two people named Mike.”
This is also a nice technique to interject in the middle of a long class, just to shake up people’s minds and get their attention revved up.


One Response

  1. An MU business prof (Art Meiners?) uses table tents to learn names and track attendance. Students collect them at the beginning of class, and the leftovers reveal who didn’t show up. He collects them at the end, so they probably reveal who skipped out early too.

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