New Year, New Names, Remembering Students’ Names

by Laurie Bellet

Student names can be such a challenge to learn. Here it is, Heshvan; you may have already conducted several class sessions. Likely, these sessions were scattered amongst the holidays. It may be that you have only met once weekly so far. Tonight is my first session of Teen School for the year. I will have somewhere near 30 new faces to match with names, a good percentage of which are going to be called by some male or female variation of Alex. This will bring my weekly student count to approximately 600. No kidding! Several days a week I am the art specialist at a large multi-cultural elementary school where there are only a few named Alex but many named Tomer and this year, Rishabh seems popular. There are even a few names I cannot yet pronounced. Needless to say, I do not know many names, instantaneously. But, the kids don’t know that!

Names are so very important to giving us our sense of integrity. Students know they are esteemed when the teacher learns their names quickly. At the beginning of this school year, I gave each student a “name tent” (more about this in a minute) to write their name and classroom number. A charming fifth grader smiled at me saying with assurance, “I don’t have to do this Mrs. Bellet; you know my name!” He was marginally correct. His name was either Kyohei, Yoshifumi or Kevin (too many to count this year). I convinced him that I wanted the new students to feel comfortable so, everyone needed a name tent. (He is Kohei, no “y”)

Name tents are fold over desk signs made of cheerful cardstock. They are self standing so do not require any tape to keep them on the desk. Although a name tent is terrific when instituted on the first day, several weeks into the year, the concept needs some adaptations. If the name game is still befuddling you, consider purchasing some heavy cardstock, trim each piece so it isn’t top heavy when tented. Encourage each student to write his or her English name on one side and, if known, the Hebrew name on the other. They can then decorate the tent with their favorite colors, stickers or small drawings of their hobbies and interests. With a name tent set up, you are able to call each student correctly by name; students get to know one another, and each name is associated directly with a face.

Although tedious, actually calling attendance helps associate names and faces. The year I had 5 “Alex” types in a teen class of 20, a student begged to take attendance each week. By report card time, I still didn’t recognize Alex #2 from Alex #5! With younger students, I use attendance to teach them a Hebrew response and we have a brief, conversational exchange. In Teen School, I have developed a technique, where I say the name in a pensive, viewing mode, so it looks like I know that the Alex is there but is momentarily escaping my glance. Alex always speaks up and I can connect name and face.
All my students sign their art work on the front of the paper. This permits me to address each student by name every time I ‘check-in’ during class time. Eventually, my name recall is secured.

With little ones, I always ask them to spell their name for me. Whether it is Myshele (with a “y”, and an “s” and one “l”) or Ryleigh, I have learned that, without an exact spelling, I will certainly not be accurate.
Handing out folders and papers directly to each student, by name, also helps solidify familiarity.

Do you have a sure fire name recall strategy? Let us know (before report card time)!