Teacher Tip – Five Strategies for Learning Names

Working with a new class can be tricky, especially when you don’t know the students’ names! Silly Fish creator, Rebecca Humphries will be working with a new group tomorrow. Below she gives her best strategies for learning name’s quickly and avoiding embarrassment until she does.

1. Make everyone wear name badges.

Learning Names

In the first few classes of term, there’s no better way to remember names than have a visible prompt right in front of you. This is especially useful if your class are also meeting each other for the first time. We all feel a little self conscious when we’re speaking to someone whose name we don’t remember and it’s no different for many children. Name tags remove a barrier for students and teachers alike and can help a group bond more quickly.

2. Play lots of name games.

In your first class particularly, name games should be one of the main orders of the day.  The repetition of a name that happens within a game will help it stay in your mind and the minds of other students. Even after the first session, playing at least one name game in your warm-up can help names stay fresh in your mind in the long term. You can find lots of name games in our drama games section.

3. Use your students’ names as often as possible.

Whenever you speak to a student, try to use their name. In addition to enforcing the name for yourself, hearing the name repeatedly can help the other students remember it more quickly also. As an added bonus, using the child’s name can helped them to feel valued and recognised. This can help you avoid any behavioural problems down the line.

4. Associate something with each student.

A tried and tested way of remembering names is by association. When you first meet a student, recognise something distinctive about them, e.g. they have very long hair. Next try to think of something you associate with their name e.g. Jane = Tarzan. Visualise a way of connecting these words e.g. Tarzan swinging on a long vine made of hair. Next time you see the student, look again for their most distinctive feature. When you see the student with the long hair you can visualise the scene and remember the name through association. This takes a little practise but once you’ve established this practice, it can save a lot of time.

5. If all else fails, call them Bob.

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, a name just will not sink in. In the first class, before even attempting to learn names, I tell my students that I am terrible at it. I say that it is very likely that I will forget their name and that to save time, instead of saying, ‘You, sorry, I’ve forgotten your name.’ when calling on them, I will confidently point to them and call them Bob, regardless of their gender. In this instance the student should say their name before responding to whatever it is that I am saying.

This technique levels the playing field with all students and helps both them and the teacher feel less embarrassed if they’ve forgotten a name. Instead of a forgotten name being a bad thing, it is part of class humour and helps efficiently correct the problem with a smile instead of hurt feelings.

What are your best techniques for learning names?

Rebecca is the founder and chief executive officer of Silly Fish Learning Ltd. She is a children's playwright with a vast and varied career in education, primarily teaching drama and English.

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