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What's In a Name? Strategies for Remembering Students' Names

"Remember that a person's name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language." -Dale Carnegie

Reasons to Learn Students' Names

  • Students expect it (unless the class is very large).
  • It tells students you are interested in them as individuals.
  • It helps foster a sense of community.
  • It makes the instructor appear more approachable and less remote.
  • It is a powerful way to foster student-student and student-faculty interactions.
  • In large classes, students can feel "like a number." Knowing one's classmates' names fosters the feeling that there are peers in the class with whom the student can interact. Also, a sense of community among the students begins to grow, fostering learning both in and out of the classroom.
  • Students are more conscious of their behavior when they perceive themselves as identifiable.

Strategies for Learning Names:

  1. Have students make name tents out of 5"x 8" cards. Fold the 5"x 8" cards in half so they are tented, and with a thick marker, have the students write the name they wish to be addressed by in large letters on each side. Either have the students keep their name tents and bring them to each class, or collect them, and at the beginning of the next class, try to match the names with the students while returning their tented nametags.
  2. Take a picture of each student, groups of students, or the whole class. Circulate the photographs and have students write their first names under their picture. Keep this in your office for future reference, but not in a public place or space.
  3. Ask students to give their name each time they speak aloud the first few class sessions. Later, ask them to wait while you remember their name.
  4. Tell students you are going to leave the classroom for five to ten minutes and that when you return, you want each student to be able to introduce five classmates on a first- name basis. How they go about it is up to them. This technique has been known to increase the energy level in the room.
  5. Have students prepare a "Passport" for your class on a note card. It could include their picture and any other information that would be helpful for learning their name. During the semester, call students by name when you return homework or quizzes, and use names frequently in class. (Davis 23)
  6. "Name Game." Ask the first person to give her name. The second person gives the name of the first person and his name, and the third person gives the name of the first two people and her name. This continues until all students have given their name. The instructor goes last and recalls all of the students’ names. This works best in a small class. (Davis 24)
  7. Bring in a camera and have one of the students take headshots of each student. At the second class, return with the photos and have the students write something about themselves on the backs of their photos. Periodically review their photos and the information they listed, and you will soon know every student's name.
  8. "Scavenger Hunt." Make up a sheet of fairly inane traits, as many traits as you have students in the class. Traits might be something like, "wearing shoes that require laces," or "likes spaghetti with clam sauce." Each trait has a space in front of the trait sufficient to write in a name. Everyone in the class gets a sheet, including the instructor. The assignment is to find a person with that trait, meet them, and record their name. The rule is that you can use a person only once to complete your sheet.
  9. "Unforgettable Neighbor." Have students turn to their neighbor and introduce themselves. The assignment is for the neighbor to introduce his or her 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 to those introduced and ask the class to name the individuals. Continue with the introductions and cumulative reviews. The repetition in reviews really helps.
  10. "Alternative Adjective Name Game." 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 a (positive) adjective that begins with the same letter. Examples include: "Great Greg" or "Awesome Alicia." The second person has to repeat the first person's name preceded by its alliterative adjective, and then give his/her name. The third person repeats from the beginning and adds her/his moniker to the game. When all of the students have participated, recount them all and add your own name at the end.
  11. "Student Circle." Have students sit in a circle with you and explain that each person is to give their name and a characteristic of themselves. For example, "My name is Judy and I have a good memory." The second person has to repeat the first person's name and characteristic, and then give his own. And so on. Coaching is allowed!
  12. "Annotations." Annotate your class list by writing down individual characteristics beside each student's name.
  13. "Association Techniques." Anyone who has the same name as someone you know is associated and remembered that way, particularly if they have similar qualities.
  14. Ask students to include on a card the name they want to be called in class (with pronunciation instructions included), add "one sentence to make them memorable." Students use the one sentence in a variety of ways: to share a favorite quote, to describe a hobby, to tell where they grew up, or to share something about their classroom "style" (e.g., sometimes falling asleep because they work late, don't especially like to participate in class, etc.). The instructor can review these prior to subsequent classes to aid in remembering the students’ names.
  15. "Chaos to Order." Ask the students to learn each other's names, but do not give them a system. At first there may be chaos, with students moving about asking each other their names, until they get organized and realize they need a system with repetition, practice, etc. Follow this up with a discussion of what worked and what principles of learning took place. The main goal, however, is to have students get to know each other and feel comfortable in the class.
  16. Two students interview each other asking questions pertaining to unique hobbies, proudest moment, most prized possession, a significant accomplishment, etc. Students then introduce their partner to the class. After everyone has been introduced, it's time for a memory test. The instructor begins by stating his/her name as he/she holds on to the end of a string from a ball of yarn. The instructor tosses the ball to someone and says something like, "I'm tossing the ball to Greg because I remember that Greg wrestles alligators in his spare time." The pattern continues until everyone in the class is connected. The class members then do the same thing in reverse as they untangle themselves and talk about the person immediately before them. (Option: While all class members are connected, the instructor may want to use the connected students as a model to explain how the class will grow from a collection of individuals to a network of educated students over the course of the semester.)


Davis, B.G. Tools for Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1993. Print.

Middendorf, J., and Elizabeth Osborn. "Learning Student Names." Campus Instructional Consulting. Indiana U. 2006. Web. 4 May 2010.

"Teaching Strategies and Disciplinary Resources." Center for Research on Learning and Teaching. U. of Michigan, 2004. Web. 4 May 2010.

"Learning Students' Names." Office of Graduate Studies. U. of Nebraska-Lincoln, 2010. Web. 4 May 2010.

"Using Online Icebreakers to Promote Student/Teacher Interaction" Online Learning Laboratory. U. of S. Alabama, 2001. Web. 24 Aug. 2010.

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