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Learning Student Names

Students are more receptive to your teaching strategies when they know you care about their learning. What’s one concrete way to show that you care? Learn their names! Knowing your students’ names builds community in your classroom, creates a sense of mutual respect, and helps you seem more approachable. 

Here are a few tips to help you quickly learn your students’ names this semester:

Printed photo sheets – Go to onlinephoto.nd.edu, or ask the primary instructor for the class to do so, and print out a roster with names and photos. Take a few minutes each day to review and quiz yourself by covering up the names to see if you can recall them just by looking at the photo. 

Name tents – On the first day of class, bring cardstock and sharpies for the students to create name tents to display on their desks, and ask them to bring their tents with them for the first couple of weeks. Having an in-class visual of the student and their written name can make learning names easier. Bonus – having students write their names on both sides of the tent helps everyone in the class learn each other’s’ names, not just you!  

Seating charts – Having names associated with where students are physically located in your classroom can help boost your name recall abilities (and matches well with a seat reporting mandate!). Create a sketch of the classroom and fill in the names yourself, or print off a seating chart of your class here.  

Ask students something about themselves – associating a fact about a student with their name can help with name recall. If your class size allows for student introductions on the first day of class, ask them to also state an interesting fact about themselves. 

Practice calling students by their names often – Practice, practice, practice. Interacting with your students regularly and getting to know them as individuals will make name learning come naturally. 

Pronunciation – If you are worried about pronouncing a name correctly, ask the students to introduce themselves first. Another option is to collect google form surveys from students on the first day of class, that include a question on how to pronounce their names. 

Don’t expect to have all your students’ names memorized right away. Give yourself time to learn and make mistakes. If you’ve forgotten early in the semester, just ask. Students will appreciate your efforts. They’re meeting new people too and can likely relate to the struggles of getting everyone’s name right.  This student quote from a study in a large enrollment biology class summarizes the effect of knowing your students’ names: 

“I know there are close to 200 kids in this class and I’m not in any way a top student or someone special, but I sure felt like I was when the instructor knew my name.”


The Importance of Learning Students’ Names” – Glenz

Getting Names Right: It’s Personal” – Igwe

Learning Student Names” – Middendorf & Osborn

20 Tips for Learning Student Names” – University Center for the Advancement of Teaching. The Ohio State University
What’s in a Name? The Importance of Students Perceiving That an Instructor Knows Their Names in a High-Enrollment Biology Classroom” – Cooper, Haney, Krieg, Brownel

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