Ways to learn students’ names

1. Descriptions This is the method I most often use- writing things by the side of the class list describing each person so that I can remember who is who. You will probably want to keep this secret from the students and even other teachers, as the easiest thing to learn their names from is often […]

1. Descriptions
This is the method I most often use- writing things by the side of the class list describing each person so that I can remember who is who. You will probably want to keep this secret from the students and even other teachers, as the easiest thing to learn their names from is often short physical descriptions, and the easiest ones to remember people from might not always be taken as complimentary. Other possibilities of what to write include things like “highest level student”, “always comes late”, “pauses a long time before speaking”, “joined the class in the second month”, “obsessed by cats” or “usually first to arrive”.

2. Photos
Even better than a description by you is a photo given to you by your school, under which you can write each name. This is particularly useful in very large classes and when you might have to identify them to write reports etc long after the last time you saw them.

3. Name learning games
Any game you can play which involves students learning each others’ names will also help you learn them too. Possibilities include “Who Spoke English in the English Class?” (similar to the children’s game Who Stole the Cookie from the Cookie Shop), other memory games, guessing which statement is true of which person, and throwing around a beach ball and naming the person you are throwing to.

4. Seating plan
As you check names at the beginning of the class, write each name on a small sketch of the classroom showing where each person is sitting. If they tend to sit in the same section of the classroom each week, this can then be used to identify students in the next class. If not, you can write descriptions of each student next to their seating position and use this to remind you who each person is before you start the next class. Note that if you want to use this method but you also want to get the students in different groups, you will need to return them to their original seats after each activity.

5. Ask them to sit according to your seating plan
For example, make them ask each other their names and line up in alphabetical order, and then sit down in the same order. It should then be easy to identify each person.

6. Badges/ stickers
The most important thing about learning names is to use them as often as possible, and it doesn’t even matter if near the beginning of the course that mainly consists of just reading their names out. The easiest way of doing this is reading straight off badges pinned to them or stickers stuck to their shirts. The advantages of badges is that they are likely to keep them and reuse them next week and that they are less likely to fall off during the class, and the advantages of stickers are that that are cheaper and easier to replace if they go missing.

7. Name cards
If you have no special equipment at all or students will feel that wearing badges or stickers in childish, you can get them to fold a piece of A4 paper into a triangular tube and write their name on the front and put it on their desk. Problems with this can be that it often falls off of their desks, that you can’t see who is who when they stand up, that they need to remember to take it with them when they change groups, and that if the teacher can see it the other students often cannot.

8. Stickers on their books
A similar alternative is getting them to write their names clearly on the front of their textbooks and/ or other books. The advantage of this method is that you can ask the school administration staff to organise it before the first class (perhaps even printing out stickers for each person), that it also helps them not get their books mixed up with their partner, and that it is readable all year. The disadvantage is that it might be difficult to read upside down or when obscured by the student’s body, and completely useless at the beginning of the class if you prefer to start with textbooks still in their bags.

9. Match sound or spelling of name and aspect of student
This is a general name learning technique related to vocabulary learning techniques sometimes used when studying L2. For example, Anna looks like an air stewardess on ANA (All Nippon Airways).

10. Form connections between them and people with the same names
A similar way that I use but have never seen described is to form a link between the student and someone else you know or know of with a similar name. This can even work when the connection is quite slim, such as Jorge liking ham and George Clooney having a pet pig.

11. Give them English names or nicknames
I’m not a huge fan of this, and it is perhaps admitting defeat with learning their real names, but possible advantages include avoiding insulting them by mispronouncing their name as something rude in L1 or English, avoiding seniority issues of needing to address different status people in different ways, and allowing them to use the name as a way of taking on a role for the whole class and therefore being less shy. The main disadvantage is that it perpetuates the idea of English as a language of native speakers and people trying to be like them rather than English as a language students can use to really be and express themselves.

12. Put their names up on board when they form groups/ when scoring team games
If this could make it obvious that you don’t know their names yet when you probably should, ask them to choose a team captain and get the captain writing the names, or ask the class for the names while you have your back turned to them because you are writing on the board.

13. Get them to write about themselves
The more you know about each student, the better you will remember them. This might not stick to their actual names if they speak about themselves in class because you might be concentrating on too many other things. Having these personal details on written work also has the advantage of having their names written at the top, assuming you double check they have written their names before you take them in.

14. Homework with their names on, and give it back
This is like a simplified version of the method above. If you don’t know the names when you should, keep your eyes down on the page when you call out the names and then look up for the person who has responded.

15. Call out a random name and see who responds
This is another technique that can be useful when you are embarrassed that you still don’t know their names. The secret is to call out from the list while still looking down at it, because if you knew their names you would otherwise of course look towards the person you had picked.

Written by Alex Case for TEFL.net December 2008
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic.


  • Mel says:

    This is awesome!

  • michael says:

    A really great list, I definitely appreciated it.

    Only implicitly touched on here is the most classic method: Take attendance! After the class time has started, just call out the names on the list, and look up as each name is called. Students might not even catch on you don’t know their names, because you’re calling out the names from the list because it’s faster to tick them off that way… right? And when doing this, you can even slot them into a temporary seating chart, really useful for when the students change seats every day.

  • Elena says:

    Thank you sooooooooooo much! I love this site. You are my favorite to check and to help me in my English class. Happy New Year 2009!

  • Delilah says:

    Learning students’ names (I believe) is a very tedious job for a teacher especially so if he has large classes. I personally use the seating plan as a helpful tool in learning students’ names. Asking students to place their name tag is also a big help….Now thanks to english club I have other means.. and perhaps faster means of learning students’ names.

  • Alexandra says:

    Very interestin`! Thanks=))))))))))))))))))))))))

  • laila madhani says:


    great its really a good ways to recall children names

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