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A Low-Tech Method for Memorizing Every Student’s Name in Five Days

By Dave Stuart Jr.

Knowing a kid’s name is almost a prerequisite for genuine connection. Unfortunately, it’s not simple getting 100+ names down at the start of a semester. So, rather than relying on the latest app or some other means of over-complication, here’s how I quiz myself to get 100+ names memorized within a few days. (Also, for what it’s worth, this year I teach 120 students. Be reasonable in how quickly you expect yourself to memorize names, especially if you are one of those saints who teaches 600+ kids per semester.)

First Day of School, during class

  • Do the first day of school index card activity so that you’ve got a full set of index cards for all the kids on your roster.
  • While kids are filling out their index cards, take attendance by calling their names from a class list, being careful to note any pronunciation tips or preferred nicknames as you go. (Also, make sure you ask kids to give you pronunciation and/or nickname stuff. They won’t all do this, but some will.)

First Day of School, after class

  • Read through the index cards. As you do, read the kid’s name aloud, attending to any pronunciation or nickname notes you made during class.
  • As you go through the kids’ cards, attempt to picture them. I can usually only do this for 10% of the kids at this point.

Second Day of School, during class

  • While the kids are working on something independently (like a written warm-up), spend that five minutes taking attendance without calling anyone’s name. If you’ve already made a seating chart, try not using that. You just want to quiz yourself on how many of the names on your list you can match to a kid sitting in your class. For any kids you can’t find, call out the kid’s name to ensure he or she is here, and make note of what that kid looks like on your list of kids. Don’t advertise what you are doing to the kids.
  • If you have another opportunity during that class period, quiz yourself in a different manner by looking at each kid and attempting to say his or her name in your head. Use your list as a last resort.
  • As much as possible throughout the second day lessons, use the kids’ names. This is a great day for making mistakes because, if you’re teaching secondary kids, they aren’t expecting you to have their names memorized yet. Make (and correct!) mistakes aggressively on Day Two.

Second Day of School, after class

  • Spend 5 to 10 minutes per class quizzing yourself on the kids. Pull a random index card and attempt to describe what the kid looks like. Do this in a place where you can talk to yourself.

Third and Fourth Days

  • Repeat both the during and after class things from the Second Day. Quiz yourself every hour that you have kids, and quiz yourself after class as you can. If you are really quizzing yourself using the methods above (and actively correcting your mistakes), you should see the name of question mark kids shrinking daily.

Fifth Day

  • Fist bump yourself. (Awkward.) You just memorized 100+ names in five days, using two high-tech apps: your brain + the power of retrieval practice (AKA self-quizzing).

Psst, one last thing: don’t be a perfectionist! I still find myself messing up on names, sometimes even months into the school year. But when I do, I laugh at myself, I fix the mistake, and I move on.

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