Tuesday, August 18, 2009

learning names

Name-tag The fall semester is beginning, and if you're like me, you are getting ready to meet a lot of new students. The experts tell us that learning our students' names is one of the best ways to improve faculty-student and student-student interactions. How do you learn names? Here are some suggestions:

  • Does your school produce a facebook (the old-fashioned kind, a pamphlet with pictures of members of the incoming class)? Photocopy the pictures of the students you will be teaching and tape them on your seating chart beside their names.
  • Maybe your school has a Facebook (the new-fashioned kind), whether generated by the school itself or by the students. If you aren't afraid to read the students' comments, join the group, and get to know them. (For example, you might be able to disabuse them of the notion that not having a class until 10 a.m. Wednesday does not mean that it's okay to go drinking on Tuesday night.)
  • Tentcards Bring a fistful of markers to class, and distribute a sheet of cardstock to each student. Instruct students to fold the cardstock in half lengthwise, making a nameplate. Pass the markers around and ask students to write their names--large and legible. Mine have liked this idea so much they've taken their nameplates to other classes.
  • Call roll the first day and ask every student (yes, even those named Smith) to pronounce his or her name (this keeps students with unusual names from feeling they are singled out). Write your own phonetic transcription for the non-Smith names on your roster.
  • Devise some classroom games to break the ice and get students (and the professor) to interview each other. For example, create a "scavenger hunt" sheet that asks for not-very-private information such as "Enjoys riding bicycles," "Wore braces in the 5th grade," "Speaks French fluently," "Has bungeed-jumped and lived to tell about it." Fill up the sheet with these traits and activities (including something about yourself that students would not easily guess), give a copy to each student, and give them 10 minutes to interview and find people to match to each category.
  • In a smaller class, put students in pairs or triads, and give them five minutes to talk and develop an introduction of their teammates, which they will then present to the class.
  • After 2-3 days of class, test your memory of their names--out loud, in the room. "Mr. Fields? Am I right? And next to you, that's Ms. Warrick?" Yes, you are putting yourself on the spot, but you are also connecting with them. If you miss a name, ask classmates to give you a hint.
  • Ask students to fill out a questionnaire the first day, and ask them to include something they really want you to know about them. When you're holding your first conference with a student, review his or her questionnaire and find a way to refer to that tidbit.

What are your favorite ways to learn students' names? Tell us in the comments.

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