The beginning of a new school year, semester, or quarter is often filled with lots of excitement and great expectations. One of the expectations for teachers is that they will learn and remember the names of their students. When I taught at a small school, I learned my students’ names relatively quickly since my homeroom had ten students and my regular classes had between ten to 15 students — I saw most of them every day.
Years later, as a college and university professor, learning and remembering names proved a bigger challenge. My classes were much larger, and, in some cases, I only saw the students once or twice per week over the course of a semester. During this time a veteran colleague came to my rescue and shared a simple, helpful strategy with me.
The approach is simple and can be easily modified:
Each student is given a 4×6 note card. On one side the student will write his or her full name and underneath, the preferred name, if different. For example, “Elizabeth-Ann Jackson” might prefer “Liz” or “Beth.” Next, ask students to flip the card over and write a response to four questions. Designate a question for each corner of the card. For example, on the top right-hand side, ask them to share a favorite memory of school or a teacher; on the top left, their favorite food or color, and so on. Leave the center space free of any writing.
Some schools provide photos of students as part of the class roster. If this is the case, affix a photo of the student in the center of the card on the side where they have shared their responses. The completed card will then contain the student’s full name and the name they prefer to be called on one side; and, on the flip side, a photo of the student and four things about them. The cards can then be used to help you do the following:
1. Learn and remember names. Use the cards as flash cards to help you review each student’s name, photo, and interests. Practice matching names with faces and interests. During the class period, find ways to integrate students’ responses into conversations and class discussions.
2. Take Attendance. As students arrive, place a small check on the top left corner of the side that has the student’s name along with the date. Use a symbol or letter to indicate tardiness or absence. These notations can then be used as a quick reminder when updating the attendance record.
3. Randomize participation. Use the cards to involve as many students as possible throughout the class period. For example, if Mike is asked a question during class discussion, take his name card out of the rotation and move to the next student. From responding to questions to assisting with classroom tasks, this is one way to engage more students throughout the class period.
A quick online search will reveal more variations to this strategy, along with many others. Take some time to find one that works best for you, as you seek to create an atmosphere of belonging and care in your classroom.