Learning Student Names

Looking for a way to engage students, particularly those who may feel isolated or disconnected? Want to be more approachable to your students? Some evidence suggests that learning students’ names can promote a more inclusive environment, build a sense of community in the classroom, and enhance both faculty-student and student-student interactions. It can be challenging, particularly in large classes, but our students are worth it and they will appreciate your effort in getting to know them as individuals. If you’re blessed with a photographic memory, delete this e-mail now. If name-face recognition is a challenge for you, here are a few tips to make it easier…

  • have students create their own nametags or name tent-cards
  • take a photo of each student and print out with their names on it. Study like flashcards.
  • review photos on your Blackboard roster (for students who uploaded a photo in Bb, go to Course Management on left sidebar, then Users & Groups, then Users)
  • play name games during breaks (e.g. with students in a circle, first person introduces themselves, then next student introduces previous student and themselves, and so on until the last student introduces everyone)
  • take a video of students saying their name and watch before class (bonus tip – videos or photos are handy when students request a rec letter several years later)
  • use association techniques (e.g. If a student has the same name as someone you know, or has a unique characteristic, they can be associated together)
  • greet students by name both in class and in e-mails
  • if you teach online, address students by name in threaded discussions
  • in large lecture halls, invite students to share their name before answering a question in class

The most influential professors in my life knew my name and that felt important to me. In his book, What the Best College Teachers Do, Ken Bain emphasized the importance of engaging students and “provoking impassioned responses.” Learning your students’ names is one way to create that kind of learning environment.

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