How to Learn Student Names Quickly: 26 Names within 5 Minutes!

By The Arty Teacher - July 21, 2019

Do you struggle to learn student names? This guest blog post by Jo Baker details her tried and tested method on how to learn student names quickly. It’s a great read, especially as we get ready for the new academic year.

I have been using this method since I was an NQT.  I am not sure how it came about, just developed over my first few weeks I think.  Mainly due to the fact that I used to hate it when teachers did not know my name.  ‘You there’, or ‘You, yes, you’ – used to drive me crazy, and also add to the fact that I was far more likely to misbehave for teachers like this.  If they could not even be bothered to learn my name, then why should I show them more respect?  Yes, I used to be quite horrid.

It has worked for me for 16 years.  It may be the exact same method you have used for 50, BUT – I think it’s great, and really really helps when forming relationships with your new students.  Classroom climate and rapport with students is my number 1 – and this just helps me to develop and nurture it.  It also helps me make a quite dull admin lesson go a bit quicker! Also – if you don’t learn names in this first lesson, when do you have the time to dedicate to it?  Colleagues who say to me ‘I am no good with names’ make me quite sad.  I’m no good with names, no one is  – so I train myself with this method, and it really does work!

I have got my time down for a whole class to between 5 and 6 minutes.

I am lucky in the fact that my classes are capped at 26/27, so not sure how I’d fare if I was English or Maths, but I think you could use the same principle, it would just take a minute or so longer.  I also think the way I have my tables helps with the learning of names, but again – I haven’t had them any other way and so unsure how much this helps.  I just like it – so it’s staying.  I have been teaching since September 1st 2002, and have never used a different method.  I think it came from that first, quite weird lesson where you are getting to know new students, and doing admin things, like creating new folders, sticking mark sheets in books, handing out new art books etc.  It kept me amused during these lessons.

I have also tested this technique out when I had a SCITT trainee with me in January.  She trialled this method and has written a few words on how she found it:

“After starting my placement at Branston I realised that I would need to learn pupils names very quickly.  Jo was keen to show me her ‘trick’ to memorise a full class’ names in 10 mins.  Of course I immediately said ‘there’s no way that will work with me, my brain is frazzled’, but I was proved wrong.  I amazed myself how well and how quickly this method worked!  Baffled by this, I was keen to try it again with my Year 7 class.  Only to shock myself again, by learning a bigger class in even less time!  I will certainly be taking this strategy with me through my career in teaching.” – Louise Donnelly  Jan 2018

I think the method relies on a sort of memory game, a bit like ‘I went to the shop and bought an apple, then the next person buys and apple, and a banana etc etc’  You remember by pattern and repetition.

The method goes like this: (and sorry for the weird photos and description, I just find it a lot easier to explain with arms and movement around the classroom!)

When my new class comes in, I get them to line up at the back of the classroom.IMG_8016

I then ask them to sit on the chairs as I call out their names.  I sit them in register order (although it doesn’t matter whereabouts on the table they are).  Just the first 4 names on the register on the first table, then the next 4 on table 2 etc etc.

My tables look like this, the numbers are just so I can write about what I do first (they aren’t numbered in real life!)


The first four, (let’s say they are called Adam, Bob, Amelia and Kim).  I have the register in my hand and know the first four names are sat on table 1.

‘Who is Bob?’  Bob looks at me and smiles, raises hand etc.  I look at him and say ‘Hello Bob’, he goes back to his work.  If his face is not in my head yet, I ask him to look at me again, I say ‘Bob’ as he looks at me.  Then I say: ‘ Who’s Amelia?’  She raises her hand, I say ‘Hello Amelia’.  Amelia.  I look at her while I say it (vitally important).  Then I look at Bob, saying ‘Bob’.  Then ‘Amelia, Bob’, whilst looking at them in turn.  Then I say ‘You must be Adam?,  Look at me…Adam. We smile, and then I go through ‘Amelia, Bob, Adam’, in a variety of different orders.  Once I have table one down, I do the exact same process for table 2.

Once I have the four names on table 2, I DO NOT go to table 3 – I come back to table 1 and repeat all eight of the student names, and then in a different order.  Then I move onto table 3, learn all four of their names, then come back to table 1, 2 and 3 – calling out their names first in the order I learnt them, then in a random order.

That’s half the class done!

Repeat the steps for the rest of the tables.  Most important – learn one table THEN go back and repeat every single name you have learnt before (I think this is the ‘I went to the shop and bought…’ game coming in to play!)

I find table 6 the trickiest.  I’m not sure whether it is because there are 6 on the table, or whether my brain is full by that point (certainly feels that way).  I learn their names, then go back over all tables 1-6 (I do 6 twice at this stage as it’s getting harder at this point).

If you feel you could just check once more – repeat their names once more.  If there are students with the same name, then you have to learn the surname as well – but in 26 names, what’s one more?

The students then get great delight by ‘testing’ me.  They hold their hand up, and I say their name.  Many do this a few times, to really test me.  It all just reinforces my learning.  This is all in the first 10-15 mins of the class.  I do this as the students are making their folders for the year, sticking mark-sheets into their new books etc.  If a student gets out of their seat, and sharpens pencils or goes to the sink – recall their name.  This really helps if you can say their name when they are out of order / away from their table. I also like to stand at the door as they go out, and recall their names.

That’s all there is to it.  Sure – the next lesson, you may have forgotten some – but do the method again, it’ll only take you 1 or 2 minutes this time.  You’ll not need to do it a third time!

Jo Baker is an experienced Head of Art who is always on the lookout for new and innovative practice. You can find her on twitter @jobaker9 and read more blog posts here.

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The Arty Teacher

Sarah Crowther is The Arty Teacher. She is a high school art teacher in the North West of England. She strives to share her enthusiasm for art by providing art teachers around the globe with high-quality resources and by sharing her expertise through this blog.

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5 responses to “How to Learn Student Names Quickly: 26 Names within 5 Minutes!”

  1. Stephanie Modling says:

    Wonderful resource!

  2. Tara says:

    Another way to help with visualising is to get each student to do a movement/gesture/pose & you copy it. I’ve done this in a drama class, all standing in a circle & students introduce themselves (one at a time), and the class then says “Hi ___” & copies the movement. It can be basic, like waving, or more involved like a star jump or a turn, but it’s prefaced with “don’t do the splits or something that it’s unlikely everyone will be able to do.”

  3. Cathy Morris says:

    Yes I use similar method , I find the easiest way is to assign each student a seat which is on my seating plan , keep the same seating plan for at least half the term , longer if you like ! You can then start to learn names and locate individuals easily . Also first task for yr7 is a design featuring their name , I find I can visualise their work and helps me match work to student!

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