Being a first-time mum, I still feel enthusiastic about taking my toddler to classes, like music, Gymbaroo, swimming, etc.
I’ve been amazed at how much of a difference it makes when an instructor remembers your name or the name of your child.
Although logically, I know that a ‘typical’ educator has too many students and parents to remember their names AND I’ve certainly been guilty myself of getting to mid or even the end of a semester without remembering all of my students’ names. Being on the other side now, I do get an ‘ouch’ feeling when an instructor remembers other people’s names, but not mine.
As it’s the start of a semester now, it may be a great time to brainstorm how we can remember our students’ names better. After all, addressing students by their names directly contributes to an inclusive and welcoming classroom environment, and signals to students that they are not small cogs in a large ‘university assembly line’ and that they matter.
1. Read the class list out loud before meeting the students
Taking several minutes to read a class list out loud a day or two in advance can make a huge difference. Not only will it make you feel more confident, but it’ll help to identify any difficulties, and maybe even ask others about a particularly tricky name. Yes, it’s time investment, but it’ll pay off in rapport-building and making you look approachable.
2. Name tags or cards
When I was teaching tutorials, I would always bring some paper and markers to my first couple of classes and would get students to make name cards. They’d fold the paper, write their name in large letters and put their name cards in front of them on their desk. Seeing other people’s names was very useful not only for me (a tutor), but also for other students. After all, many of us need to see a name in order to remember it.
I’d usually collect the name cards at the end of the class and bring them to the next class. This would also allow me to see who was in, and who wasn’t without doing a formal roll call.
3. Associations with other people
Whenever possible, I’d use associations with other people, e.g. Melanie is like my neighbour, David is like my dentist, Michelle is like my sister-in-law, etc. So mentally linking people I know with students would help me remember their names better. However, having been born and raised among a completely different set of names, I would often have a ‘blank’ moment when trying to link a student to someone I knew. This is where the next tip would come in handy.
When I couldn’t think of anybody I knew with the same name, I’d try to rhyme it or use other mnemonic tricks. For example, Shaheen would be ‘shah’ (king) is IN today. Ivan could be “I” and ‘van’ (me driving in a van), etc. The sillier the associations, the better. It makes it easier to remember.
5. Looking at the face, note some features while actively trying to remember the name.
It’s common advice to look at a person’s face when trying to remember their name. Apparently, it helps to link a name to a person. For example, when trying to remember the name of my mother-in-law Narelle, I was staring at her hose and mentally saying N(ose) of Arelle. Na-relle. I have to admit that I find this advice easier for one-to-one conversations, but it can work in group settings, like group classes too.
I would sometimes ask students to go around the room saying a few things about themselves and why they are taking my unit. It would be a good ice-breaker and give me a chance to hear their names from them.
7. Use it and use it again
We usually need to say a name several times to remember it, so it may be helpful to make a conscious effort to use students’ names, both when you address a person, and when reporting back, like ‘Maria said’ … or ‘Thank you, Luke, for asking that question’.
8. More pair-share activities where each person reports back to the class, using the other person’s name
I like ‘pair-share’ activities, where 2 students are asked to discuss a particular topic then report back to the group. It helps to give all students, including shy ones, a chance to talk, and it provides yet another opportunity to remember students’ names, as you can ask students to use their partners’ names when reporting back.
9. Look at the name list the same day, the day after and a couple of days after that
My final tip is to look at the name list again after the class, and a couple other times before class 2. It’ll help to consolidate the names and will make you look mega considerate when you start using students’ names from class 2.
Which brings me back to my toddler and the warm and fuzzy feeling that I had when our Music instructor in a group class greeted both me and my son by our names (correctly!) when we came for our class 2. It really did create a feeling of belonging; that we were more than an assembly line of students and their parents who come in for classes.
Do you have any other tips for remembering student names? Share them in the comments below. Looking for more tips on teaching tutorials? Check out these 10 ideas for better tutorials.