Dear Teachers: Learn Names on Day One

Dear Teachers,

(Of any kind: School Systems, Tutors, Sunday School, etc)

There is power in knowing a name.  Power, I tell you.  In fact, though I won’t say that not knowing names will automatically break a teacher, it will make a world of difference, especially to new teachers.




Make An Effort!
Make An Effort!

One use of a name on DAY ONE stops most students in their tracks.  In my experience that’s true of any teaching situation. Sunday Schools. Public Schools.  The singular use of the name is a teaching superpower.  It stops talking.  It lifts a downtrodden head.  It magically makes phones disappear.  Just one “James, Annie, or Chris” will do it.  Mark my words.  But it has to be on day one, or at least by day two or three.

Strategies for Learning Names

  • Plan ways to learn names
  • Invest some class time for this purpose
  • Require students to know each other’s names
  • Write the names down if you struggle
  • Have a seating chart
  • Repeat the names back to them when you meet each student
  • Call roll, requiring an out loud response with an eye contact

Name Activities

  • Name Card Competition (This is my favorite one! Students come into the room with a strategic bell ringer activity. They fold an index card in half (hamburger style) and write their name largely on the front.  For my film students, they also write the name of a favorite movie to launch a discussion; my English students draw a symbol that represents them.  One by one each student stands to introduce him or herself.  We repeat back the names periodically; let’s say between every set of five.  Then, at the end, whichever student can name all students win a prize, which today was simply a giant eraser from the Dollar Tree; second prize was an Avengers pack of tissues, in case he or she shed a tear for how much he or she loves my class.  The second day, I give out mini-erasers to one or two who can still remember the names.  It takes about 20-30 minutes, but in my 1 1/2 hour class, the investment is worth it. “James” with a look: the talking stops. Just like that.)
  • Name “Signs” (This is also a competition of memory, but in addition to remembering the names like above, students also had to remember a physical action that represented each person; examples are shooting a basketball for students who play or playing an instrument for a band student, etc.  It’s similar to the game “Signs” if you’ve ever played signs.)
  • “My Name” by Sandra Cisneros (There is a golden vignette in the book The House on Mango Street that describes a girl’s life through the history and memories associated with her name.  Do a close reading of the chapter and follow it up with a handwritten chapter of their own about their names.  It’s a great way to get to know them and another use of their names the day following the name games.)  I should also add that this would be really cohesive with 11th grade English if teaching a text like The Crucible, where John Proctor says, “Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them you have hanged! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!”  The PDF attached is simply from a google search and has great additional resources with similar ideas.)
  •  The ANY Assignment Walk-around (Remind the students to put their names at the top of the page; then walk around constantly looking at their names and faces while they work.  Memorize their names while they are working.  A main purpose for whatever this first assignment is, be it a diagnostic or letter, is to also have time to get their names down.)

Happy teaching! I hope these ideas are useful.  They make all the difference for me.

With hope,

Mrs. P


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