Learning students’ names—and helping them learn each other’s names—is an important step toward creating a welcoming course climate. Research shows that students appreciate when an instructor makes an effort to learn names, while a lack of effort can make the instructor seem remote and unapproachable (Rubrecht, 2006). In particularly large classes, it may seem impossible to learn every student’s name, but even learning some names will foster a more caring and inclusive atmosphere.
The following techniques can help you—and your students—learn and remember names in a variety of manners and contexts. Many of these approaches can be adapted within CarmenCanvas or CarmenZoom if you are teaching fully online; see the suggestions for technology tools as well.
Have students fold a piece of cardstock or paper in half and write their preferred names and pronouns on one side. Display the name tent on desks or tables until you and other students can pair names with faces.
Create a list of simple characteristics, such as “wearing a hat” or “doesn’t eat meat.” Include as many traits as you have students in the class. Hand out the list to your students and have them talk to one another until they have found a unique person—and name—for as many traits as possible.
In pairs, have students interview each other. They might share their names, pronouns, majors, and a fun fact about themselves. Then have students introduce their partners aloud to the class. After a few of these introductions, point to a student who has already been introduced and ask students to name that person. Do this until everyone has been introduced at least once.
Take pictures of students using a smartphone or instant camera. Be sure to ask for permission and explain that you are using the photos to learn names. Write students’ names and pronouns on the photos or include them in the file labels for later study.
Personally return assignments
If teaching in person, take the time early in the term to hand back assignments to students in class. This practice helps you connect student names with faces.
Use names of students you do know
Anytime you call on students you already know, use their names. For example, saying, “Megan, did you get the same answer?” can show all students you are working to learn their names.
If you take attendance during class, you can begin to put names with faces and reinforce this daily. Be sure to make note of students’ preferred names if they differ from the roster. You can also note students’ pronouns on the roster.
Annotate the roster
When taking attendance, or at other times that are convenient, annotate the roster and make note of any memorable features besides students’ names.
Review your roster/notes soon after class
Review your roster right after class when students’ faces and names are fresh in your mind and easier to remember.
Make notes after office hours
If students come to office hours, write down their name on one side of a piece of paper and note what you talked about on the other side. This can help you connect student names to tangible memories of their faces and personalities.
If you are unsure of a student’s name, even if you have previously asked, there is nothing wrong with asking again. This signals that you have made it a priority to learn names and are actively trying.
Quiz yourself at home
While you’re teaching, you may have many things on your mind that make it easier to forget student names. Spend time at home reviewing students’ names and picturing their faces or using photos as flashcards so you can concentrate in a low-pressure situation.
Divide students into manageable teams and conduct small-group meetings outside of class. This provides you more time to personally connect with individual students. Facilitate a conversation about your course and have students share their names and pronouns. Make notes during or after the meeting as needed.
If you have an assigned seating chart, you can attach students’ names to seats. Each class period, work on memorizing the names of a subset or row(s) of students. Make a point of visiting with these students during the next class session and calling them by name.
At the start of the term, encourage your students to use Namecoach in Carmen to record the pronunciation of their names and identify their pronouns.
Share photos or videos in Carmen
Display names in CarmenZoom
Strategies adapted from:
The Center for Teaching and Learning. Bowling Green State University. “Learning students’ names.”
Houston, Natalie. (2009). “Learning student names.” The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Teaching Effectiveness Program. The University of Oregon. “Learning Students’ Names.”
Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence and Educational Innovation, Carnegie Mellon University.
The Center for Teaching and Learning. Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis.
Office of Graduate Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Davidson, Judith. “Activities for Helping Students Learn One Another’s Name”. Faculty Focus.
Rubrecht, Brian G. (2006) “Reasons and methods for learning student names”.
Svinicki, M. & McKeachie, W. J. (2010) . McKeachie’s teaching tips : Strategies, research, and theory for college and university teachers. (13th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.