How to Learn 120 Student Names on the First Day of School

Note:  this post accompanies a radio show episode I made on the same topic. You can listen to the radio show by clicking HERE

Teaching is fundamentally a relational activity and nothing tells a student that they matter more than knowing their name.  When I first started teaching in 1986, I was so busy worrying about what I was going to teach that I neglected learning about who I would be teaching.  Those first few years of teaching it seemed to take forever to learn all of my students names.  I even remember coming to a parent teacher conference and there were a few kids names that I still hadn’t learned.  I was embarrassed and needed to change. It was then that I realized that I needed to make this a priority in my teaching.

The next year I resolved to learn my student’s names much faster.  Over the years I have devised a system where I can literally know every student’s name on the first day.  Let me walk you through the steps I took to learn their names.  Note that the process doesn’t start on the first day, but much of the work happens before the students even arrive.

  • I map out the room(s) with all of the seats students would be in.
  • Once I receive the class lists, I physically write their first name and last initial on a spot on the seating chart.  I use a pencil as students often will be added or dropped from my roster for a variety of reasons.  I create one of these seating charts for each class. Use a big marker to indicate which class the list belongs to.
  • With the seating charts in hand I devote one to two hours of time to standing in my room and I say the names of the students out loud.  Essentially I am memorizing which student sits in which seat in each class.
  • On the morning of the first day I go in early and practice again.
  • On the first day I have the seating chart projected on the screen.
  • I stand at the door and greet students and tell them that there is a seating chart and that it is on the screen.
  • During the first day students do an activity from their seats which takes about 10-20 minutes.  While they are working on that project I work at saying their names in my head.  At this point I look at them and try to match a face to a name.
  • Toward the end of class I go around the room and state their names out loud. There is something about saying it out loud in their presence that reinforces it in my mind.
  • At this point I still haven’t attached a face to the name, but rather have memorized who sits in which seat in each class.  So I still need to practice. Every time I ask something of individual students, I try to use their name and after about a week I know the face along with the name.

You probably read this post in hopes that there was some easy way to learn 120 names on the first day.  There are no shortcuts.  It takes a lot of hard work and commitment.  But I have found that this pays back rewards throughout the year.  Kids love to know that they are not just another face in my classroom.  They want to be valued, and learning their names is one way to start the school year off well.  I hope this helps you as much as it has helped me.

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