knowing your students’ names

I’ve always worked hard to be able to get to know my students’ names relatively quickly during the semester. I think I may have finally hit upon a successful way of doing this within the first two weeks (short of taking postage-sized sticky photos of each student and practicing at home).

On the first day of class, I have students get into groups of four or five, pick a spokesperson, and introduce themselves to each other. They have to tell each other their names, their major, and one thing that they think is interesting about themselves or otherwise important for the class to know. Then it is the spokesperson’s job to introduce the members of the group to the whole class. This way, shy students aren’t forced to talk when they don’t feel comfortable doing so.

I’ve also been taking roll by having students sign in on a sheet I pass around each day. I finally realized they should write their interesting/important thing next to their names. For whatever reason, the combination of three items (face, name, thing) allows me to remember them more quickly than the combination of only two items (face, name). So as I sit here, for example, I can picture the student who is going to the Renaissance Fair in costume, but I can’t remember her name. A quick check of the latest sign-up sheet, however, fills me in.

Remarkably few of the students remember each other’s names or interesting details, however. I’m going to keep calling them on that, I think.

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4 thoughts on “knowing your students’ names

  1. Too much nostalgia on my part

    Itís daunting to try to post about the first day of class after so many peopleólike dave, George, Eloise, and othersóhave commented on it so aptly. But the first day of school always sticks with me. Itís one of those…

  2. I hope I’m not alone in thinking that learning student names is an important part of the educational process. And this 30-minute exercise on the first day of class saves a great deal of time otherwise spent later trying to remember who is who.

  3. Moreover, these activities often go a long way in helping to foster classroom community. They tell students early on that they need to know their fellow classmates as much as they need to know their professor, and that they will have a chance to speak just as they will spoken to.
    Conceiving of these activities as just so many “party games” participates in a mode of teaching that often amounts to little more than the old “sage-on-the-stage” model, which bores students and inhibits learning. I’d much rather use those 30 minutes to learn my students’ names a bit better, so that they know I’m paying attention to them when they speak, and so that they feel like they have permissioon to speak as part of a community of scholars.

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