5 Components that Enhance Positive Expectations: #1: Use the Student’s Name

5 Components that Enhance Positive Expectations: #1: Use the Student’s Name


You can help students believe in themselves, by believing in them. This post series focuses on ways to let your positive expectations show.

“A person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest, most important sound in any language.”

            –Dale Carnegie

Calling others by name is among the simplest ways to indicate you value them as individuals—yet many people say, “I remember faces but not names” as if it were something to brag about. Worse, more than a few people regularly mispronounce names or call others by the wrong names altogether.

While it may not be reasonable to expect everyone you met in college to identify you on sight, there’s no excuse for not learning the names of everyone you see every work day—even with seven classes of forty kids each.


The Art of Remembering Names

If your reaction to that is, “No way, I could never master that many names,” the first step is to lose that negative attitude. If you think you can’t—you won’t. If you believe you can—you can.

That’s not to say you must have everyone’s name nailed down by the end of the first day. However, if it’s a month into the term and you still can put names only to the standouts, make studying the seating charts part of your nightly homework. (Ideally, you should do that from the beginning.)

Some common tricks for learning names:

  • Draw a picture in your mind that matches the name: a log pile for Wood, an open book for Paige, a sparrow for Birdie.
  • If no visual image you can think of directly fits a name, try rhyming the name, spelling it backwards, or making other small alterations that might better fit an easy word picture.

(Be careful, though: people do get associations mixed up and address a Forrest Heller as Woody Keller.)

  • If a name is completely foreign to you, or if you have difficulty with the pronunciation, practice saying it several times a day until it sticks.
  • When you have a set number of names to memorize, take a list you already know by heart—with the same number of items, in any category—and pair each name and face with the corresponding item on the more familiar list.

And since you also want your students to learn each other’s names, play mixer games in class: a classic is to have each student pair his name with an adjective (“Marvelous Mary,” “Clever Clyde,” “Sensible Stacy”) and see who can remember the longest string of monikers. (This can also give you insight into how kids view themselves.)

Calling People by Name

And, even if you have to refer regularly to seating charts in the beginning:

  • Make it a rule to call on students by their names, rather than gestures or a “Yes?”
  • Always open a direct exchange by using the student’s name. And use it occasionally during the course of the exchange—but not so often it sounds forced.

Find out if anyone would prefer to be called by a nickname or middle name (but never initiate such usage spontaneously). Do this (and resolve any pronunciation questions) early, before the wrong version gets fixed in your brain.