Are You Talkin’ To Me?

Practicing Your Students’ Names

Last week at New Faculty Orientation, a panel of students described their best learning experiences at FSU. Presidential Scholar Olivia McConnell remembered an instructor who made a point of learning and using the names of all fifty students in her class. We asked Olivia to elaborate a bit for this week’s message:

Each time she would call on us to answer questions or facilitate discussions, she would take a few seconds to repeat our names and commit them to memory. Small gestures such as this are very meaningful to students, especially in the context of a large university such as Florida State. Something as small as learning students’ names showed us that our instructor not only respected us but also respected the class and the culture of learning itself. Her efforts drew students into the class and encouraged us to be active participants in the form of lively debates and individual assessment and synthesis of the course content. She respected her class and wanted to create some small personal connection with each of us, even though we were a lecture class of fifty students. Her course was challenging, but because she set a precedent of communication and respect from the very first day, she created a sense of ease and comfort in the classroom that allowed her students to thrive in ways that could not only be measured by test scores.

It may be surprising that this simple gesture means so much to our students, but names are a significant part of identity, so calling students by their names helps to acknowledge and connect with them as individuals. As Olivia explained, learning students’ names can also increase their motivation and participation in the class. They feel both encouraged and more accountable when they are not anonymous.
Most of us have a hard time learning names, though, and we may avoid using them if we’re worried we might draw a blank or mispronounce someone’s name. Here are some strategies that can help:

Remembering Names
CMU’s Eberly Center has some great suggestions. You can quiz yourself using the student photos on your roster, make a seating chart, or ask students to introduce themselves in a memorable way in class. In very large classes, where you may have no hope of remembering all of your students’ names, you might try asking them to share their names when they ask or answer questions.

Using Them Frequently
Calling students by name is good exercise for your memory. Knowing their names makes it easier to get students’ attention during classroom activities, when they are talking with one another and hopefully using each other’s names, too. Using their names when you refer to points students make in class, or their work on assignments, shows that you’re taking their ideas seriously.

Pronouncing Them Correctly
Sometimes we have difficulty pronouncing names from cultures or languages other than our own, but showing care for the way a student’s name is pronounced is a way of honoring their identity. If you invite students to introduce themselves, either in class or on Canvas in a video, you will hear them pronounce their own names, and then you can practice pronouncing them the same way. You might ask students to write their names and pronunciations on a note-card. Since students are often uncomfortable correcting their professors, you can also invite corrections, to emphasize that you are invested in getting it right. You might also try nameshouts or other resources.

If you have a great strategy for remembering students’ names or pronouncing them correctly, please share it with us at

Congratulations on a successful first week! We look forward to working with you this fall. Click here to sign up for a CAT faculty reading group.