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In the past, I've handed out index cards at the beginning of class and had students fill them in with relevant info (preferred name, pronouns, major, where they are from, etc). Then I print their pictures and glue them to the index cards, and I keep them by my desk and look through them occasionally.


A lot of institutions' record-keeping software will let you print out a roster with photos, and that's always helped me. I also have them make nametags for the first few weeks. Students in my intro have to come to office hours during the first few weeks of the course (it's worth 2% of their final grade just to show up and chat), and that's probably the single most helpful strategy for me.

Bad with names

I also teach courses with small class sizes, so this might not be effective (or possible) with large survey courses. I'm quite bad with names, so I've had to implement some strategies to help myself learn names more quickly.

The most helpful thing I do is print out a roster with the students' pictures on it. I gather some basic info about them during the first week of class (major, year, hobbies, etc.) and write that next to their names on the roster. I then use that roster every chance I get. For instance as they're coming into the classroom, I match their face with their name on the roster (I also do this when they are doing group work), and I use the roster to track their daily participation grade.

I also try to respond to them by name when they make a comment or ask a question in class ("Thanks, Amanda, that's a really interesting question"), which both reinforces their names for me and makes them feel more "seen" as individuals. And if I don't know their name I will pause and quickly find it in the roster before addressing them.

Lastly, I make a game of seeing if I know all their names by something like the third week. I'll tell the class that it's very important for me as a teacher to learn their names, and that I'm gonna try and get all their names right in one go. It's fun, and if I don't get their names they seem to be understanding, since it's still so early in the semester they don't expect me to know their name yet.


I TA'd for a professor who took photos of all the students (80 of them) on the first day of class, got the photos printed, and used them as flashcards to learn them all in the first week. We had photo rosters, but sometimes the students are seniors and don't look like their freshman photo anymore.

I've also had success asking students to use name cards in ~20 student classes. I ask the students to learn each other's names, too, and to make a point of referring to each other by name during classroom discussion (e.g., "I agree with what Amanda said" instead of "I agree with what she said.") It reinforces the name learning for me once it's a group effort, and it makes discussions more respectful.

Another thing to do in smaller classes is to have students introduce themselves by name at the start of class not just on the first day but for the first few weeks. Pair this with ice-breaker questions so you can also learn some things about them, or have them each share a brief reflection/question about the reading to get people thinking about the material more quickly. This has the dual-purpose in discussion-oriented classes of ensuring that everyone gets comfortable speaking in front of each other early on in the class period. I have some colleagues that worry that too many ice-breaker style class activities like this are a time-suck, but in my experience it helps the students jell and feel safe contributing to discussions--totally worth the use of a few minutes at the start of class.

Paul Carron

Small classes as well - I do a popcorn game the first day and follow it up with several other beginning of class ice breakers. I got these strategies from a senior colleague who is a master teacher and leads our summer faculty institute.

1. I get one of those big inflatable balls from Walmart or target, and write a bunch of silly/slightly informative questions on it. I introduce myself, then throw the ball to some eager looking student. They have to introduce themselves and answer the question their hand landed on. Then they toss the ball to a colleague who does the same, but after she has answered the question, she has to name the colleague(s) who proceeded her. I also tell them they cannot cheat and write down names. Some students find this fun and easy, others not so much, but I rarely have someone who is really bothered by it. And of course, I have to go last, and even though I heard most of their names multiple times, I will probably mess up a couple, but I'm well on my way to knowing them.
2. That first class I usually have them sit in alphabetical order by last name, the next few classes I give them a different order. For instance, by birthday (month and day), and then they tell us about a memorable birthday. This can be dangerous because memorable can be back, or my international students sometimes don't really do birthdays. But again, it generally goes well and helps the students better understand that some of us come from very different worlds. Then I have then sit in order of the distance they were born from the university and tell us something interesting about where they were born. Sometimes I will ask them simpler questions in subsequent days, like tell us about a favorite concert or live performance you've been to, favorite movie or book, etc. I usually do something at the beginning of class the first 3-5 classes and by that point, I tend to have their names down, but even then sometimes 1-2 just don't stick as well.
3. and I have also done the meet with me for points with a freshman class, and I really liked that. Of course, it was only 17 students, but I really felt like I knew those students well. And that was fall 2020, so that extra time meeting outside for coffee was really helpful!


I rely heavily on the photo rosters.

What I do on the first day (my classes are capped at 25 students, which helps!) is have the students go around and introduce themselves (preferred first name, and last name - and something about themselves). When they say their names, I find them on the rosters, marking them present and making personal notes about pronunciation if I feel they're necessary.

For the following few weeks of class, basically until I have them down, I do the same thing--I have them 'reintroduce' themselves just with first names. I find it easier to remember their names when I hear and see them say their names at the start of class.

I make a point to call students by name when I call on them in discussions, etc. Sometimes I have to refer back to the photo roster. But this has worked every semester so far (admittedly, I'm somewhat new to teaching).


Calling students by their names really helps a lot, as some people have pointed out. In addition, there's a variant of the introductions (for a smaller course) that can help you a bit: ask students to introduce themselves by name and then ask them to tell a quick story about their name (e.g. why did their parents give them that name? Was there a funny mixup they once had?). It's a bit on the silly side, but it helps...


At my institution staff do not have access to a roster of names with photos of the sort that other commenters have mentioned, though I wish we did.

I generally struggle to remember names. But, like others above, I think that developing a strong pedagogical relationship can depend on using students' names, and doing so naturally, demonstrating that one really knows the student. Knowing the other's name is emblematic, I think, of the kind of pedagogical relationship that can be inspiring and motivating for both parties.

Because I struggle to remember names, I don't want to draw students' attention to my mission to learn them, in case I do not succeed - which sometimes happens. My strategy is to invite them to introduce themselves in the first session of the term, at which point I draw a map of where each student is sitting. Each session I take a register and make a new map, over which to pore, surreptitiously, during the class.


Handing back small assignments that I'd have them do for every class was the biggest help for me. I'd learn their names after 2 or 3 runs, usually.

UK Postdoc

I was once told this trick: before your first class, make sure you are familiar with just the *names* of your students, e.g. from an attendance list. Normally, when you need to learn students' names, you need to remember both (i) the names themselves, and (ii) match each name to a face. If you've already remembered the names, you only need to do (ii). It's not a foolproof method, but I like the simplicity of it.

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