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5 Tips to Quickly Learn Student Names

I’m currently two weeks into school, have 140ish students, and have already learned their names. I’m not here to brag… it took work. You might be thinking “Wow! She is so good with names!” but that can’t be further from the truth. I am one of those people that if I meet you, shake your hand, and we introduce ourselves, I will likely have forgotten your name 2 minutes later. (Maybe because I’m not an active listener? We should ask my husband…) The point is learning names is not something that comes easy for me. It takes a lot of work. But it is important, so I make the extra effort. 

Have any of the following excuses crossed your brain?
“I’m just not good with names.”
“I’m just not good with faces.”
“But I have 150 names to learn!”
“I’ll learn them eventually… I just wait for it to happen organically.” 
“Many are too hard to pronounce.”
If you are guilty of any of these, you aren’t alone. But I promise you can learn them with a little extra effort and it makes a huge difference. 


Why learning names is so important
It is important for you to learn your students names as quickly as possible for multiple reasons:

  • First, your name is your identity. Using “kiddo” or “hon” is not the same as calling a student by their name. Plus, calling a student “sweetie” may seem perfectly acceptable to you, but may offend a student. 
  • Students will respect you more when they know you put in extra effort to learn their name quickly, AND pronounce it correctly. You are going to get students with names that are difficult to pronounce, but keep practicing. I always ask students to call me on it if I pronounce their name incorrectly. There is nothing worse than calling a student the wrong name for 2 months and finding out later you have been saying it wrong. 

Tips to learn names quickly
I’m in my 11th year of teaching, and have found methods that help me learn student names relatively quick. I encourage you to skim the list and try a few that might work for you. 

  1. Use a seating chart and name tents. On day 1, students come in with a seating chart. Seating charts not only help with classroom management, but also help me learn names. If you allow students to pick their own seats, they will shuffle seats on you and make it harder to put names with faces. I also have students make name tents on the first day and tell them they have to keep them visible the first week of school. 
  2. Set a goal to learn their names by a certain date. I always have a goal to learn my students’ names by the end of the first week. This doesn’t always happen, but that’s my goal. If you think it will take you 2 weeks or 3 weeks, make that your goal. Let the students know your goal, and offer some sort of reward if you don’t meet it. For example, tell the class “If I don’t know everyone’s name by the end of the first week, then I’ll bring in candy for the class.” By telling the students your goal you are: a) holding yourself accountable, and b) giving yourself an incentive- If you learn their names, you save a few bucks. (Note: you don’t have to do rewards that cost money. You could hand out no-homework passes or do a few minutes of free time at the end of class instead). 
  3. Say their names as they enter class. I try my best to stand by the door as students enter class every day. On lab days when you are scrambling to get ready for the next class this can be difficult, but whenever possible I’m at the door. When students enter those first couple weeks I say “Good morning __(student name)__.” If I don’t remember their names, they always help me out.
  4. Pass back papers yourself. If your students are like mine, you always have a handful of students eager to pass back papers, and generally I’m happy to get the help. But the first few weeks I always pass back papers myself. I’m not sure why, but this tip is probably the one that helps me the most. Putting written names (handwriting) with faces really helps me. Once I have mastered names, then the paper passing back goes to my antsy student helpers. 
  5. Pictures. Our grade book and attendance program loads in student ID pictures. The first week during my prep hour and in the evening I really spend time staring at those photos. Generally the pictures are a year old (seniors have their junior pictures shown) so they don’t always look exactly like their picture, but it still helps. 

I promise you if you learn your students’ names quickly the beginning of the school year will go much smoother. They will perform better in your class. Lets stop the “if the teacher knows my name the first week that’s a bad sign” narrative. I know you can do it! Do you have any other tips? Leave them in the comments! 

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Hi, I'm Becca!

I help busy science teachers get your prep back by providing you time saving lessons, labs, and resources.

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