April 02, 2015



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The problem of learning names- solved

Remembering your pupils' names can be tricky. Here are a few ideas to try, including games and the delicate art of bluff

Learning your children’s names is absolutely vital for good behaviour management; it’s all part of building a good and strong relationship with them. However, there is no overestimating how difficult learning names can be. This is particularly true for secondary school teachers of subject such as PE, music, drama and RE, who may have a large number of classes that they see for an hour a week.

There are a variety of strategies that you can use to help you learn your students’ names. I would strongly recommend that you put these to use immediately you start with any class.

  1. Use an alphabetical seating plan and refer to it as you take the register.
  2. In the first few lessons, use sticky name labels or get the children to make name plates to put on their desks.
  3. Use the children’s names as often as possible, whenever you address them.
  4. Make a few subtle annotations on your register (nothing rude, just in case a child or an inspector looks at it!)
  5. Try out some memory systems to improve your memory – Tony Buzan’s books are a great starting point.

Name games

Another useful approach is to play some name games with your class, particularly in the first few lessons. These are fun and useful for reinforcing names (both for you and your students). Here a re a few suggestions:

The adjective game: The students find an adjective to describe themselves, starting with the same letter as their name, e.g ‘My name is Sue and I am stupendous.’

Pass the name: To start, the students say their own name, and then the name of the person they are passing to. Anyone who pauses or makes mistakes is out. ‘Tim to Anna, Anna to Chirag’, and so on. Ask the students to pass to someone of the opposite sex, to make it harder and to avoid friends passing to friends all the time.

Pass the name (version 2): This is a combination of the two games above and requires the students to remember each other’s adjectives: ‘Terrible Tim to Anxious Anna, Anxious Anna to Careful Chirag’, and so on.

The delicate art of bluff

For the secondary school teacher with a large number of students (perhaps only seen once a fortnight), sometimes it proves impossible to remember all the names. The week of reports comes and you are panicking. What can you do?

Question and answer: Ask a question using the name of a specific student and then look to see who answers.

State your name: Set a group or individual task and ask the students to state their names before they start their presentation.

Off you go: Ask the children to stand behind their chairs or get ready to leave in name order. When you call out the names of the children you do not know, look to see who moves.

Ask for help: Ask a child you can trust to be discreet for the name that you cannot remember. They will be delighted that you have asked for their assistance.

Name your reward: Give out merit marks (or whatever rewards your school uses) and as you write them into the student’s diary, check the name on the front.


This article is an excerpt from Sue Cowley's How to Survive Your First Year in Teaching published by Continuum. You'll also find the latest on Sue's books on the Continuum blog.

Aamani Khan
Aamani Khan

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