In my many years teaching English as a second language, I have had students from every corner of the world.
Many of them have come to class with an English name already claimed. Past teachers encouraged the adoption of these names just as my high school teacher encouraged me to go by a French name in her class. And while I don’t have a problem with students choosing an English name, I don’t require it of my students. In fact, I don’t even bring the subject up unless they do. I think students ought to be able to use their given names in class if that is their preference.
Along with that conviction, naturally, comes a challenge – how to remember my students’ names when they represent many languages that I do not speak and cultures I am not a part of. At one point, I taught in a program where I got new students every four weeks, and these students had names that were a challenge to learn, but I still did it. You might be in a similar situation, or maybe you’re more of a face person than a name person. Whatever your situation, if you need some tools for remembering your students’ names, here are some tips for you.
7 Teacher Tested Tricks for Remembering Student Names
Know How Their Names Work
This may seem silly to even mention, but not every culture in the world follows the same pattern when it comes to names. In the U.S. we say our given name first and our family name second. In Korea and China as well as other countries, the family name comes first. Three parts often compose these students’ names – the family name followed by a two component given name. Once you understand how these names are arranged, you will have to ask your student which way she prefers you to say it. For example, if her name is Park Su-Jan, her family name is Park while her individual name is Su-Jan. She might want you to call her Park Su-Jan or just Su-Jan.
Make Notes for Yourself
Though not something you want to make public to your students, making notes about students’ appearances and personality traits can be very helpful for remembering their names. Try writing each student’s name on a sticky note and then jotting down a couple of phrases about that student on their note during the first day or two of classes. You can then use these notes to create a seating chart or simply keep them in a folder for your personal use. Review the notes before class and then again after, adding any information that will help you remember your students’ names.
Take Pictures of Your Students
Believe it or not, most students will be willing to have their picture taken in class. You can use these pictures for several things including remembering each person’s name. You might print out the pictures and make a bulletin board sporting your students’ faces and names. This is especially useful if you teach young children. You could even have each student write something about himself under his picture after you post it on your bulletin board.
Play Get to Know Your Name Games
The prime time for learning students’ names is at the beginning of the year or semester, and that’s when your students will want to get to know each other’s names as well. Playing get to know you games and games where you have to remember the players’ names will benefit both you and your students. The more practice you get saying your students’ names out loud, the easier time you will have remembering them.
Assign Seats and Make a Seating Chart
If you are able to, giving students assigned seats can help you remember their names. On the first day, ask students to find a seat and then fill their names in on a seating chart. Or if your students will be in your classroom all day, put name plates on the desks and have students sit where their name is. Assigning seats won’t be possible for every class, but even if you can’t assign seats your students will likely sit in the same place day after day. When your students have found a comfortable place to call their own, make an unofficial seating chart. Once you have your seating chart, study it until you remember your students’ names. If possible, paste a small picture of each student at their desk on your diagram. This will not only help you, it will be a great help to any substitute who teaches your class for a day.
Associate Their Appearance or Personality with Their Name
People in every walk of life use this technique to help them remember names. Take the first letter of the person’s name and think of a word beginning with that letter that describes them. For example, Pietro might be polite. Gaston might wear glasses. If you can remember the characteristic you associate with each person, you will know what letter their name begins with and are more likely to remember it.
Put Their Names on Display
Not every name learning strategy needs to be secretive. You can tell your students that you are learning their names and that they can help. You might make up nametags or name lanyards for your students to wear in class. Even simpler is having them fold a piece of paper in half vertically and then writing their name on one side of the tented paper. Then have them place the sign on their desks where you can see it. This will not only help you learn your students’ names, but it will help them learn each other’s names. Don’t forget to put a sign on your desk with your name as well. This is a particularly good strategy if you are teaching business English since that practice is common in many business situations.
It can be challenging to learn student names when you teach English as a second language.
The good news is learning even the most unfamiliar of names isn’t impossible if you make the effort. Try these techniques and you will be calling your students by name in no time.