It’s late summer, and it’s still hot outside. The blistering heat isn’t the only thing making teachers sweat, though. It’s the start of the school year, and you have at least 20 new names to remember.
Registering these names is way more difficult than it initially sounds. We get it – you just developed unique relationships with your students from last year, and you’ve had a full summer to reflect on what went right and what didn’t. It’s easy to forget about learning new names until you’re confronted with the problem directly. That’s why we’re here to propose some helpful tips for remembering student names.
Remembering Student Names: The Classics
Let’s kick this off with a time-tested technique. When taking roll for the first time, ask what students wish to be called. Do they prefer their middle name? A variation of their first name? A name that’s entirely unrelated? It’s not enough to remember full names from the start; using their preferred names will lead to a much more personal relationship with your students.
Another helpful classic is incorporating a seating chart at first. Of the many benefits assigned desks offer, remembering names sits at the top of the list. While you may consider switching up your seating for various reasons during the year, an early seating chart will be immensely helpful for you in remembering student names.
One last tried-and-true practice for remembering student names is actually writing the name down when critiquing their work, e.g. “Awesome job, Braxton!” This is why it’s a good idea to assign work, either in-class or homework, early so that you’re able to grapple with their names from the start. These assignments should be low-stakes and could even supplement or take the place of the much-dreaded but oft necessary icebreaker activity.
Fun Activities for Remembering Names
As much as icebreaker activities can be on the uncomfortable side, they’re pretty necessary for the class to develop relationships with you and each other. One activity is a game that gets students to think about animals. Animals are great, and honestly, they can help you remember your students’ names. Teachers in this activity can have students name an animal that starts with the first letter of their name. Give examples such as “My name is Sarah. My animal is a seal.” Or “My name is Brian. My animal is a bat.” Or “My name is Olivia, and my animal is an ostrich.”
Another great game to explore is the name game, which will work for younger students and make middle- and high schoolers cringe. An example of a common name game song would be:
Aiden, Aiden, bo-baiden
One way to get students introduced to each other quickly is by prompting them to introduce themselves whenever you call on them individually. During the first week or so, it would probably be a good idea to incorporate low-stakes activities that will generate class participation and conversation. This exercise will serve two purposes: you’ll start remembering student names, and they’ll get more comfortable introducing themselves.
Name plates can also be a fun way to remember your students’ names. You fold paper into a tent shape and display it at the front of the desk. Kids can draw planets or flowers or make whatever designs they like, which could provide valuable insight into their personalities and interests. This will give you an ample amount of associations to help build your name bank quickly.
This practice can be coupled with a fun ID card project. As a disclaimer, you’ll need a camera, some way of uploading images, and a way to print pictures. After you take pictures of the students individually, print them out and let the students record information that they feel should appear on their ID. Favorite color, favorite animal, favorite book, number of brothers and sisters, any kind of information can appear on the card, as long as it fits on an index card or small piece of construction paper.
Before printing, make sure all the pictures are small enough to put on the paper appropriately. Once you’ve formatted the images correctly, print them and let your students paste their pictures on their ID cards. You can go one step further, too, by laminating the ID cards so they can last longer.
Instant Mnemonic Device for Names
Creating a mnemonic connection on command sounds pretty daunting, but it doesn’t have to be through some prep work. In this context, the student’s face can act as an initial trigger. The first recognizable facial feature could go a long way in helping you to remember your student’s name. When you identify a prominent characteristic in a student’s face, like the color of their eyes or a dimple in their chin, you can begin the process of remembering their name.
Stressing syllables can also help you in remembering student names. For example, pronouncing “tie” in the name “Tyler,” “coal” in the name “Nicole,” or “ran” in “Brandon,” will help you subconsciously assign specific sounds to different students. These initial sounds will eventually act as the foundation for you remembering student names.
This example can be expanded, though! Outside of the obvious syllabic similarity shared between “coal” and “Nicole,” as the teacher you can take this a step further. Say Nicole has black hair. Black is also the color of coal. Taking these extra steps early will make it much easier for you in remembering student names.
It’s an uphill battle at first, but as long as you are patient, you’ll pick up on all your students’ names pretty quickly. The key at this stage is not to be too hard on yourself. It also helps when you’re transparent with your students early. By simply opening up about how it’ll probably take a week to memorize their names (or even longer, and that’s okay!), you can work toward developing a bond/sense of trust with your new students.