Yale Center for Teaching and Learning

Learning Student Names

Learning student names can be one of the most effective ways to establish a productive classroom environment. Use of student names has been shown to build classroom community; increase student engagement by helping them feel more comfortable; make students feel more accountable to the instructor; make students more comfortable seeking help; and increase student satisfaction with a course (Cooper et. al 2017, Murdoch et. al 2018, O’Brien et. al 2014). While instructors can feel like learning student names takes valuable time away from class, its benefits to student learning are greater than covering more content.

Failure to know or correctly pronounce student names has been tied to implicit bias and feelings of alienation among students (Mitchell 2016). While this failure can seem likely in larger classes, it need not be. Research into use of nametents on desks indicates that merely the student perception that an instructor knows their name can help them feel valued and increase classroom engagement, even when the instructor does not know all names (Cooper et. al 2017). Knowing and expressing a desire to know student names can undergird an instructor’s commitment to inclusivity and solicit more focus from students in classrooms large and small (Tanner 2013).

Suggestions for Learning and Using Student Names:

For smaller classes (<50)

  • Before class use a photo roster to memorize student names and appearances. The Yale community also has access to NameCoach, a service that lets users record the preferred pronunciation of their name. For students who use the service, a small audible icon will appear next to their name in the online directory and Canvas. Instructors can also record their names.
  • Use the first few class sessions to learn student names by: asking students to introduce themselves; asking students to state their name when responding to a question; making a game with students of vocally reciting their names; and/or recording a seating chart for reference.
  • Invite students to visit you in office hours, where you can focus on individual student names, interests, and needs.
  • Develop your own roster that records students’ preferred names and a fair way to remember them.
  • Break class into smaller student groups for learning activities and visit each group, practicing and learning names in chunks.

For larger classes (>50)

  • Use nametents that sit on student desks. Letters should be large enough to read from the back of the classroom. By making nametents, the instructor also acquaints themselves with the names of their students.
  • Ask students to share their name when responding, and try to refer back to their comments by name later in class.
  • Memorize a few names and faces before class and gently call on them during class. Over the course of the semester, try to reach every student.
  • Review a class blog post or discussion forum before class and compliment or build on student responses by name. Ensure that you comment on every student throughout the semester.
  • In section, ensure that the TF or TA knows all student names.

Additional Resources:

Tips for Learning Students’ Names, Eberly Center, Carnegie Mellon

20 Tips for Learning Student Names, University Center for the Advancement of Teaching, The Ohio State University

The Importance of Learning Student Names, Tamara Glenz, Journal on Best Teaching Practices, April 2014

References

Cooper, K., Haney, B., Krieg, A., and Brownell, S. 2017. What’s in a Name? That Importance of Students Perceiving That an Instructor Knows Their Names in a High- Enrollment Biology Classroom. CBE Life Sciences Education 16.1 (1-13).

Mitchell, C. 2016. Bungling Student Names: A Slight that Stings. Education Week 35.30 (1-11).

Murdoch, Y., Hyejung, L., and Kang, A. 2018. Learning Students’ Given Names Benefits EMI Classes. English in Education 52.3 (225-247).

O’Brien, M., Leiman, T., and Duffy, J. 2014. The Power of Naming: The Multifaceted Value of Learning Students’ Names. QUT Law Review 14.1 (114-128).

Tanner, K. 2013. Structure Matters: Twenty-One Teaching Strategies to Promote Student Engagement and Cultivate Classroom Equity. CBE Life Sciences Education 12.3 (322-331).