How to Remember Students’ Names

Instead of resorting to “Hey, you,” try these techniques for retrieving names.

It’s a common predicament for educators: Despite working closely with all kinds of students, they can’t always easily retrieve names on demand—especially during the first weeks of school, when faced with both new students and new responsibilities. And biology does us no favors by storing visual information and names in separate parts of the brain.

Some teachers turn to awkward work-arounds. But “Hey, Boss!” or “Good to see you!” or “How is my favorite person in the whole world?” are obvious giveaways, and “Can you spell your name for me?” might be answered with “J-i-l-l.”

Everybody has a good memory for things that interest them, according to Richard Harris, a Kansas State University psychology professor. So take a fanatical interest in connecting with your students and using their names.

Remember why you’re studying learners’ names: because remembering them is important. Here are a few effective tactics for internalizing students’ names.

Suggestions for Remembering Names

  1. Assign several short written assignments in the first week, and then practice names (”Well done, Sasha”) as you personally return papers.
  2. Take photos of students wearing name tags. Review the photos before class. Attach student photos to interest inventories so that you can relate faces with experiences and affinities.
  3. Identify a unique physical feature and then think of a funny sentence involving that feature and the student’s name: Tim has a tiny tooth.
  4. Create rhymes to aid your auditory and visual memory: Fred eats monkey bread.
  5. Prioritize talking to a different group of five students every day for the first few weeks of school. Use their names frequently during your conversation.
  6. Greet students by name as they enter the classroom. Ask for help from learners whose names you cannot recall.
  7. When a student tells you their name, say it back to them and confirm that your pronunciation is correct.
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