Learning Your Students’ Names

Instructors agree: learning student names helps to foster a positive climate in the classroom by creating rapport between instructor and students and improving class management and interaction. If your class is a relatively small seminar or discussion-based section, learning names usually can be accomplished in a few sessions. For a large lecture course, the task may be more daunting, although faculty report that often in these courses, students understand they have an advantage in being known by name.

Instructor in front of chalkboard pointing with a piece of chalkAs Natalie Houston blogged in the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Professor Hacker forum, “Even if you do not consider yourself to be naturally “good at names,” you can improve your recall by following a few simple tips.” She breaks the process down to five parts: Commit, Prepare, Work [On It], Review, and Practice – steps that will work regardless of class size. Houston, along with others (see sources below), suggests making note cards for each student that include photographs. At Johns Hopkins, this process is made easy using Integrated Student Information Services (ISIS). Faculty can pull up a roster with student pictures and select an option to produce cards with these images and names.

Part of learning your students’ names is being sure that you are pronouncing them correctly.  Do a roll call at the start of a couple of class sessions and ask that students provide you with the proper pronunciation of their names. Make notes of phonetic pronunciation on those photo-name cards you’ve created.

For larger classes, some instructors recommend using seating charts, at least for the initial meetings of the course, to help with memorization of names. Having students give their names when called on in class will help, as will returning assignments in class by reading the names and passing the papers to each individual. Depending on the size of the class, asking students to see you during office hours within the first several weeks of the semester is another tactic for associating names and faces. Some instructors ask students to use name tags or folding cards (for larger classroom settings). Dividing a large class into smaller working groups makes it easier for some faculty to learn names.

Practice makes perfect. Greet students by name as they enter the classroom. Use students’ names when calling on them in class. Associate their names with the comments they have made in discussion that follows.

In a very large class, you may not get to 100% name recognition by the end of the semester. But our faculty assure us that it is worth the time spent. Students appreciate the effort; knowing individuals by names helps promote mutual respect.

Here are links to some academic webpages with additional tips and tricks for learning student names:

Other resources:


Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Microsoft Clip Art