How I Learn Student Names

Each period during the school year, I seem to get a new group of students. This past period, I got five new groups, most of which were about 25 each. One of my goals is to learn all the students’ names by the end of the first lesson. It’s not that difficult if you put your mind to it. Also, it impresses, although it sometimes ends up feeling like a bit of a party trick. But that’s how memory things are.

It almost feels like I don’t really have a system. However, I have to admit that I do, because I do the same thing every time. Here’s what I do.

Step 1: While I’m taking attendance, I say the name and look up to see who said, “Here.” This alone might make me think, “She looks exactly like an Eline.” Or it might give me the opportunity to say, “How do you pronounce Taasien?” And that conversation might make the name and the face connect in my mind. I might also say, “My mother’s name is Sammie,” which would connect the two. I’m just doing whatever I can to make a connection. I throw the nets out wide in my brain.

Step 2: I send around a sign-in sheet. However, rather than a regular sign-in sheet like I have the rest of the period (with the names in alphabetical order), I send around a blank sheet of paper because the names will be in order when it makes its way back to me.

Step 3: I have them do an exercise wherein they introduce a partner, so I get to hear them talk, I hear a little interested fact about each of them (favorite food, sport or hobby), and I get the opportunity to ask a follow-up question, which might make a connection in my brain between their name and face.

Step 4: By the time the list has gone around, I’ve learned a few of their names already, so I just look down and remember that Jasper (whose name stuck in my head for whatever reason) is sitting next to Milou.

Step 5: I use their names as much as possible. This is an old trick, but it works. I just find reasons to use it. “Oh. That’s similar to what Billy said,” for example.

Step 6: While they’re doing a group or pairs activity, I look down the row and say their names in my head. But what if they don’t sit in exactly the same order next lesson? What if I’m learning the names in order?

What I do to prevent that is go down the row backward the next time. Then I’ll go back and forth from each end until I get to the middle. Then I just look at random people and think of their name.

It’s sort of a messy, random method, but it works. The point is that my intention at the beginning of the lesson is to walk out of the room having learned all of their names. Also, I believe I can do it, so I do it.

This is what makes it feel like a party trick: I will often end the first lesson by saying, “So Saskia, Tony, Barbara, Kim, Julie…etc.” down the line. “…have a good week and I’ll see you next Monday.” It’s always a winner. Learning student names is so very important. Set the intention to do it, and then just do it.

For a more formal methodology, check out Luis Angel, an amazing memory coach and learn his method for connecting names and faces.


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