Top Navigation

I Memorize Names the First Day. Hate Me.

You’re probably curious about WHY I would bother to do such a crazy, stressful, unnecessary thing, but I’ll going to start with the HOW instead.

I’m pretty good at faces, but terrible at names. So to compensate, I use all the usual tricks everyone already knows, like mnemonics. As I call out the roll, I have every student share something significant and weird about themselves, maybe a special interest or talent. Being a Brony or breeding Flemish Giant Rabbits or being born in Greenland would be perfect. (I also mention a geeky fact or two about myself, like being a chess master or playing World of Warcraft—fair is fair).

Then I have them do something in random groups. As they chatter away, introducing themselves, I do the hard work of memorization with the aid of my cheat sheet. I don’t tell them this, but I don’t actually use all the stuff they tell me. I don’t need a mnemonic to remember that Erin is the woman with the freckles and the flaming red hair, or that Sam(son) is the dude with the long flowing locks.

Then, after they break from their groups, I throw my cheat sheet face down on my desk, theatrically, and wail, “I’m going to fail horribly at this!” Then I go around and give it a try. I usually get about 50% right this first time, which impresses them, but which is actually pretty pathetic. Sometimes I remember their mnemonic, but not their name, which is interesting.

Then I flip the tables on them and have a student identify another student by name or mnemonic. The person identified then goes on to someone else untaken, until everyone is covered. Sure, friends cheat by identifying each other, and yes, one or two of them get caught being oblivious, but most of them can identify someone. And, of course, this is helping me enormously with my own memorization.

Then I have them do another group thingie (that’s a technical term we use in English pedagogy) as I work at memorization some more, focusing on the toughest names—it’s usually the two guys named Carl and Darl who look alike and are both Red Wings fans. Then I try their names one last time, right before I let them leave, and I’m up to 95%–and they’re super-impressed. (Though they could all do the same thing if they had to.)

Now back to the big question: WHY? What signals could I possibly be sending about how they can get hard assignments done, or about how I want them to relate to each other, or about how I plan to relate to them?

Alas, I’m way over my 16 sentences. Maybe I’ll explain the reasons for this madness next time?

3 Responses to I Memorize Names the First Day. Hate Me.

  1. Avatar
    Sarah Wangler November 13, 2018 at 12:51 PM #

    I memorize names on the first day/week too! In really similar ways. I have students introduce themselves so I can hear them pronounce their own names. I have them write down some info on a notecard to hand in to me, and I use a “seating chart” on the back of the class list to write down who is whom and who is sitting where. Then, I have them tell me something interesting, which they balk at. Then I have them do an in-class essay and I silently quiz myself and memorize. At the end I run around the room aloud and test myself. Usually it takes me 2 class periods to get to about 90% and then, inevitably, there are two people I mess up, or one that I get completely wrong for an embarrassing amount of time. One semester I persisted in calling a “Bill”, “Adam”. For twelve weeks. Oops! Sorry!

  2. Avatar
    Alex Smith November 13, 2018 at 2:20 PM #

    I warn my students week 1 that there will be at least one person in the room whose name I will not know in week 12. I apologize profusely for this, but at least the expectation is there. It becomes almost a joke in project presentations later in the semester “Whose name is she going to mess up?!?”

  3. Avatar
    David Sprenkle November 13, 2018 at 6:11 PM #

    Yes! There’s always that someone whose name just doesn’t stick. This semester, it’s a “Karla” I call “Klara” way more than I want to admit 🙂

Leave a Reply