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What Is Your Technique For Memorizing Student Names?

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With the new school year approaching (and, for some, already here), I thought it might be useful to hear people’s techniques for learning student names, especially in middle and high school where we have so many to learn so quickly.

My room is set-up so it’s wide — I have four desks in each row, and have eight rows across. My technique is to tell all students on the first day of school, which is always a Tuesday, to make a name tag to leave on their desk (putting it in their class folder at the end of each period) until Friday, and that by Friday I’ll have memorized their names. I create a seating chart for each class, and focus on memorizing one row across in each class every night. That way, by the end of Friday, I usually have it down. Of course, my seating chart can serve as a “cheat sheet” the following week if needed.

What’s your technique?

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

9 Comments

  1. I find that I’m best able to remember my students’ names while they’re sitting in front of me, so on the second day of school (after trying and failing to remember their names on the first day), my students indulge me in going once through their names and then reciting all of them from memory.

    And it works: I haven’t yet come up against a class (and I have 38 in each this year!) where I couldn’t, on the second day, remember each student’s name. I think it’s the very public nature of my attempt — plus, they get a little help in remembering their peers’ names in the process.

  2. I love a seating chart even in college. I find it helps me keep their names and faces straight. It is essential when I only see them once or twice a week.

  3. I make a seating chart, then have them do a few quiet things at their desks over the first few days (a writing sample, an information card), and I spend the time looking at the chart and looking at them and just busting my butt trying to memorize. Sometimes I use mnemonics, as I did the year I had three students named “Liu” and had to memorize their middle initials, too.

  4. I teach 6th grade science and I actually make every one of my students name every other student in the class. Each student comes up with a helper (hint) for when kids get stuck. The helper always involved the first letter of their first name ex. Charismatic Chris. The first two weeks of classes I take a couple volunteers for “the name game” and we do it every class until EVERYONE in the class can name every other student. It helps with not only me learning names but engaging the introverted students in understanding how much they matter!

  5. I share with you the technique of having my students create their own name tag. However, to make my memory works more efficiently I ask them to make their name memorable. Each student has to tell something specific (ideally peculiar, just to catch the listener’s attention) about him/herself and write the key work at the back of the name tag. That way when walking around the class I can have a quick glance both at the name and at the key word. That makes it easier for me to memorize their names.

  6. Larry, I do approximately what you do, although I am not so uniform in my memorization by rows. I tell the class my challenge is to know everyone by Friday as well, so they test me on Friday. It’s harder in my all Latino school with color-coded dress code to discriminate and memorize quickly!
    I have a friend who sits her class in a circle and they play the telephone game. First student says her name. Second students say first student’s name plus his own. On and on around the room. My friend goes last, and by the time it’s her turn, she’s got it down pat. I couldn’t do that in a million tries!

  7. I am the technology teacher at an elementary school with close to 1000 students. I see all of them. I work at learning their names, and learn many of them, but don’t remember them all.
    The first day of class I take their pictures and make a seating chart with their pictures and names. I make an effort to always call them by name. Usually by the time they are in 4th and 5th grade I know them all.

  8. Larry,

    My strategy is similar to your strategy. I have kids make their own name cards. At the end of each block, I ask a student to collect the name cards and to shuffle them. Shuffling them mixes them uo a lot for me. Each day I pass them out and record on the board my percentage correct. 99.9% of the time each day is a higher percentage than the day before. I use it as a learning example to persevere and to not give up.

  9. I seat students semi-alphabetically in my jr. high class. The first student sits with the third; second with fourth; and so on. I create a seating chart that is projected on the screen at the front of the room for the first few days. This helps me remember names and lets students start learning who is sitting around them as well. While I may not know them in the hall, by the end of the third day, I usually know them by name in the class period. I also find it helpful to have to hand back homework in the early days, forcing me to remember places and faces of my students.

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