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Aug 24 / Carl Sorgen

Do you have a strategy for learning students’ names?

If you want your students to be active participants in their learning over the course of the semester, then on the very first day, set an example and engage them in an active learning activity!

Many times students in your classes won’t know each other.  To create opportunities for peer learning, begin with getting to know each other’s names.  Dedicate time during the first class to learn students’ names and to help them learn each other’s names. Creating a sense of community among students fosters learning both inside and outside of the classroom.  Here are some strategies for learning students’ names in courses of various sizes.


For classes with about 40 or fewer students

Have the students move their desks in a circle so everyone can see each other.  Ask students to say an adjective that describe them and then state their preferred name.  The adjective should start with the same sound as their name (e.g., “Charismatic Carl” or “Shy Shonda”).  Start with the person on your left and go around the circle.   Here’s the catch; have the next person in the circle repeat all of the previous adjectives and names.  The last person should be you.  It can be challenging, but hearing the names repeated multiple times and associating an adjective with each individual will help solidify the names for you as well as all of your students.

Tip: This isn’t a test!  Don’t be shy about helping each other as you go around the room.

Acknowledge that there is some swirl during the beginning of the semester and students will continue to come and go for the first few weeks.  During this time, use a couple of minutes at the beginning of each class session for new students to introduce themselves.  This communicates a desire to create an inclusive learning environment where they’re not just another number. 


For larger class settings

  • When students ask a question, have them say their name first.
  • Use a seating chart.
  • Have students make name cards that they place in front of them.
  • Use a class list to randomly call on students.
  • Ask students to turn to their left and right (forming a small group of three) and introduce themselves.

Tip: Although it can be difficult to learn every person’s name in large classes, even trying with some success has an impact on students.

At the appropriate time, ask students to identify someone if they’re going to miss class so they can get the notes.  Even in a large lecture setting, you can ask students to turn to a partner and introduce themselves.  This helps to breakdown a sense of anonymity in a large lecture setting.  Of course, make this a voluntary activity.  Students who do not wish to share their contact information are permitted to opt-out.

Do you use a different strategy for learning names?  Share it in the comments!


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