Agony aunt

September 29, 2000

I always face a sea of new student faces at the start of term. Any tips on how I can remember their names and identities?

* Lorraine Stefani, Reader in academic practice, University of Strathclyde

It takes time to know and identify all of our students. What can be helpful in creating a comfortable atmosphere for student learning is to be open and inter-active. Something I have found to be beneficial is to include an ice-breaker when I first see a new class. I ask the students to move around and introduce themselves to students they do not already know. I explain that much of my teaching will be interactive and involve students communicating with each other. I also explain that it will take me more time to know all of them than for them to know me, but that I do my best as time goes on.

When I pose questions in class, I ask whoever responds to tell me their name. This way I build up my knowledge of the class.

I have often introduced small group tasks into my teaching. If the task is to be carried out over time, I ask the groups to give themselves a title or an acronym by which they can be identified. When I ask for the names of the group members, I remember the students by association with their group title. Opportunities for learning names are also offered by the return of assignments. Hand the assignments out individually for a chance to put a face to a name.

If I don't know a student's name or I have forgotten it, I have no qualms about saying "sorry, I've forgotten your name". That is far preferable to having a conversation or discussion without being able to address the student by name.

I think that the more open we are prepared to be about getting to know our students, the easier it becomes to remember their names and identify them individually.

* Sue Habeshaw, Principal lecturer, Faculty of humanities, University of the West of England

It is important to remember that you are not the only one who finds this difficult. Your students have the same problem, especially on modular courses where there is a different mix of students for each module. So my advice to you is to organise name games and activities that will help your students as well as you. Group dynamic theory tells us that if students know each other's names they will feel more comfortable in the group and learn better. Try one or more of the following methods. They work for groups of up to 30 students.

* Ask students to interview one another in pairs and then introduce their partner to the group

* Ask students to say something about their name - what it means and why they were given it, for example

* If there is a set of "mug shots" for the group, give each student a copy. Or you could take your own photograph of the group and give everyone a copy

* Draw a plan of the classroom on the board and as students say their names write them on the plan

* Ask students to introduce themselves. Get everyone to write down the names together with a pen portrait and to learn the names for the next meeting.

The secret of success in learning names is to keep the tone light. But, at the same time, this is something that needs to be taken seriously. Don't be afraid to test students - and yourself.

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