Learning Student Names

Instructors who learn their students’ names and use them in class build better student-faculty rapport, decrease the number of student absences, and bolster student participation (Sleigh & Ritzer, 2001).

“While it is difficult to learn students’ names in large classes,
an earnest attempt and even moderate success doing so,
is extremely salient to students.”

Here are some strategies that can help you to learn and remember student names:

1.  Make it a priority

" Focusing on any goal is the first step towards making it happen" (Mckinney, 2006).

2. Let them introduce themselves

Rather than reading names from your roster, let students introduce themselves by having them state their preferred name, as well as their pronouns if they feel comfortable doing so, in addition to an interesting or fun fact about them. This helps eliminate the possibility of mispronouncing someone's name as well as helps avoid deadnaming due to outdated roster information. 

In large classes where this might take too long, break the class into smaller groups (10-15) that will take turns introducing themselves briefly at the start of each class meeting for the first few class meetings (or however many it takes to let everyone introduce themselves).

3.  Study your course roster before the first class

Begin familiarizing yourself with the students’ names.  Annotate your roster as students introduce themselves so you can review it later, if you can memorize the names and whatever tidbits of information stand out, associating the faces of students with those names becomes easier.  

If you have access, you can also print off your classes photo roster from the DU Card Center's Photo Roster Search. Consider cutting out each student's picture and writing their preferred name and pronouns on the other side so you can study them like flash cards. You can request access to your photo roster by emailing ducard@duq.edu or calling 412.396.6191. Not everyone's photo will be up to date, but it will help to get you familiar with the majority of your students.

4.  Get to know something about each student

As an alternative to having students introduce themselves, many Duquesne faculty members distribute blank index cards and ask students to give their name, preferred pronouns, nickname, hometown, major, year in school, etc.  I liked to ask students to tell me something about themselves such as hobbies, pets, favorite foods, what shows they're currently streaming, etc.

A variation on the student index card is to have students make a passport for the second class:

“This is an exercise in creativity and an opportunity for you to get to know about the student as well as their name. Using an old notecard, have the student make a passport or document that tells about them. They must include a personal picture (a snapshot is okay), some information about their likes and dislikes, and something about where they have been and where they are going. This is especially helpful later, when the student calls and asks for a recommendation...you can use the card to jog your memory.” (Middendorf, 1997)

5. Include the class in learning names

As part of an ice breaker activity, you can have students introduce one another after working through some getting to know you questions or an initial group work activity.

6. Use name tents

If remembering names is difficult for you, have students make a name tent to display at their desk with their preferred name and pronouns. This can be especially useful in large classes.

7. Schedule Group Meetings

“I teach a class of 72-75 students every spring. Starting with the second week of class, for one week I have small group meetings with seven students at a time. I learn a little about them and they learn one another's names. I take their picture as a group as well.”  (Middendorf, 1997)

This not only helps you learn student names, it also helps students learn where your office is and feel comfortable coming to your office.