Learning student names

Simon Handy, Kyoto University of Foreign Studies


Quick Guide

  • Key words:Group dynamics, name reinforcement, remembering names
  • Learner English level: All
  • Preparation time: 5-20 minutes
  • Activity time:10-20 minutes
  • Materials:Photographs, paper, cards, pens


Learning all your students’ names isn’t easy, but it is achievable and it has effective classroom benefits. Kenny (1994) found that a vast majority of university students thought it was important that teachers remember their names, but that most teachers did not do so. In addition, students whose names were remembered tended to perform better than students whose names were not recalled. Why should this be so?

Imagine you are a student and you know that the teacher knows your name. How do you feel about that teacher and their lessons? More positive certainly, and perhaps ready to try your best. On the other hand, how would you feel if the teacher does not know your name? Most likely this may negatively impact your impression of the class. The following activities provide a number of suggestions for helping you remember the names of your students, thus making sure they have the best possible learning experience in your classes.



Step 1:Make the decision that you are going to remember your students’ names. Starting with a positive mind-set is half the battle.

Step 2:There is a strong link between location and memory, so take advantage of the fact that students tend to sit in the same places. During spare moments in class, write down the names of all the students and where they are sitting. In the next class, move them around and repeat. This process helps reinforce names through spatial location.

Step 3:Get the students to supply you with a passport-sized photograph. Glue the photos to a single A4-sized card. In addition to helping you learn names, this card is useful for grading purposes.

Step 4:Alternatively, give each student a card on which they must fix a photograph of themselves. Have them provide background details, such as where they were born, hobbies, and part-time job. Emphasize that students are free to decorate their cards as they wish. These cards will provide you with memorable mental imagines of each student.

Step 5:In-class activities can be utilized for name retention by making sure you always using a student’s name when moving them around or calling on them for answers. If you can’t remember someone’s name, ask for a hint, such as the first letter. This small prompt usually stimulates your brain enough to enable recall of their name.


Additional Ideas

For more ideas, try using your students and colleagues as a resource. For a more computer-based interaction, simply type “remembering names” into your favourite search engine. Many sites will come up with interesting tips, ideas, and strategies.



Discipline in class is improved when each student knows that their teacher remembers their name and so could easily call on them if they were to misbehave. As a result, students stay “on task” more of the time. Class fluidity is thus enhanced because it is much easier to call on students or move them around. Making the effort to remember your students’ names is a simple and effective way of demonstrating your commitment to teaching them. The more effort you put in, the more you will get out.



Kenney, T. (1994). Does remembering a student’s name effect performance? Nanzan’s LT Briefs, 1:2, p. 3.