I am not good at remembering names and faces. In the small town where I live, I am constantly running into people and trying to recall if I know them from my son’s school or from musical theater or from church or just where we might have met.
So you can imagine the difficulty I have remembering the names of my students. I know that for some people this isn’t a big deal, but I have always struggled with it. So in case you are as forgetful as I am, here’s what I do to help learn student names at the beginning of a term.
Since my students are above high school age, it doesn’t work to require them to sit in particular seats. So, as I take attendance on the first day, I note which students are sitting where by making an instant seating chart on the fly. Then, while I have students engaged in activities, I make a few notes about the students next to their names. I might make a comment about a student’s appearance: “wears glasses,” “big earrings,” short blonde hair.” I might note that they remind me of someone else that I know. Or I might write down something about their voice or movements to help me remember them.
If I have a class of students from many different countries, I’ll make a note of where they’re from. If the particular student name is a new one for me, I may make a note about the gender.
One thing that I avoid is making notes about clothing. Students are rarely so obliging as to wear the same thing to class every day, and “blue jeans” is not very useful for distinguishing one student from another!
At the second class meeting, I test myself. I’ll look at the student names and try to remember which student is which as I call their names. To reinforce the names further, I walk around the class and use each student’s name as I hand out papers to them. Also over the next few days, I refine my names “cheat sheet” as needed. I try to find distinctions between students that I have trouble telling apart or focus on students whose names I have difficulty remembering. Sometimes, as I commute to work, I’ll review the names of the students and try to visualize them, so that I know who I might have missed.
Sooner or later, I’ve got everyone’s name memorized and connected to their face. Am I alone in this difficulty? What tips or techniques do you have for remembering the names of new students? Leave your comment here or join the discussion on the TESOL Blog.