You probably already know that there are lots of benefits to learning students’ names as soon as possible. In elementary school, where the seats are labeled and you only have one class, memorizing names is a breeze. In high school it’s a lot harder, but still worthwhile. Here’s a system I’ve used to memorize the names of up to 180 high school students on the first day of school. Just saying.
1. Hand out index cards.
2. Ask students to draw a horizontal and vertical line to divide the card into four sections. Post an example card on the board and give the verbal instructions below:
Top left: Full name – You can also ask students to include the version of their name they’d like you to use. (Nick instead of Nicholas, for example.)
Top right: Seat number – Or whatever system you’re using to assign seats.
Bottom left: One identifying detail – Ask students to use something that won’t change by next class. In other words, they shouldn’t use descriptions of their clothing, but they can use a hairstyle or descriptions of glasses or jewelry that they wear every day. (You can give some identifying details about yourself as an example. Avoid listing examples that students might be self-conscious about, like height or weight.)
Bottom right: One thing they would like you to know about them. Examples of these might be medical conditions, favorite activities, or important life events that happened to them recently. Reassure students that these are for your eyes only (and make sure you stick to that). Most of the details students will share on the first day aren’t going to be very personal, but they still make good conversation starters. It’s always nice to know who likes to draw, dance, play basketball, etc. But it’s also important to follow up with a quick, private conversation if a student drops a bomb here. Among the things I’ve found out from these cards were students who had health conditions and needed me to notice if they started wheezing, students who wanted me to know they needed help managing their anger in certain situations, and students who had recently lost relatives and just needed me to know they weren’t completely okay.
3. Use these to call on students randomly for the rest of the day (and for many days to come). You can also used them as flashcards to memorize names while students are working quietly.
4. Do your best to use names every time you call on students.
5. Near the end of the class or the day, put yourself on the spot and try to call everyone by name. You can also offer a reward for anyone whose name you miss, like the chance to line up first or a sticker or school supply. Students are thrilled if you get this right, and it sets a good tone for the rest of the year.
Note: It’s natural to forget some of the names by next class. Just keep the cards handy, keep using them to call on students randomly, and don’t rearrange student seats until you’re confident that everyone’s name is filed in your long-term memory.
Tips for getting students to memorize each other’s names –
During the last ten minutes of class, challenge everyone to try to memorize the names of their team, row, or the four students sitting closest to them. If you have students divided into teams, students can memorize the names of everyone on their team.