You have /5 articles left.
Sign up for a free account or log in.

Teacher giving advice to diverse university students in classroom

Professors can help students feel as though they belong and foster inclusivity through learning and using students' names.

ferrantraite/E+/Getty Images

For professors who teach a large number of students, it can be difficult or feel impossible to remember each student by name. However, research shows when a professor knows their student’s name, that student is more likely to feel valued and engage in the course.

Students also say that interpersonal relationships benefit their academic achievement, with one-third of respondents to a spring 2023 Student Voice survey saying professors taking an interest in getting to know them is beneficial.

To improve student success in the classroom, here are six tips and tricks faculty members can try to help them memorize and utilize students’ names in class.

  • Match students to their names. An old learning trick is matching terms to their definition, so why not match students’ names to the student? Instructors can do this by handing back assignments individually or by having students create some kind of name card the instructor can hand out at the beginning of class.
  • Use photos. Professor Daniel F. Chambliss from Hamilton College would take pictures of his students alphabetically, print them out and create a deck of cards with students’ names on the back, he wrote in a 2014 Inside Higher Ed Views piece. Throughout the semester, as he learned more about the students, Chambliss would add additional fun facts to their card. With today’s learning management software, many professors have access to students’ ID photos, which can be used similarly.

Practicing Inclusivity

In addition to learning students’ names, there are some ways professors can make their classroom an inclusive and welcoming space for all students.

  • Practicing proper pronunciation of students’ names is one way to foster feelings of belonging for students. It’s OK to ask students to share how they pronounce their name or to have them repeat it to make sure you get it right.
  • Sometimes the name on the class roster is different from the one the student uses, so asking students to share their preferred name and pronouns can also help students feel at ease in class. Being misgendered by peers, faculty and advisers is one common stressor among students who are nonbinary, so investing time to learn their name and pronouns is beneficial to their wellness, according to Yale University’s Poorvu Center.

  • Write a seating chart. Professors can learn names more quickly by asking students to sit in the same spot for the first few class periods and then allowing them to sit where they please for the remainder of the term, according to Carnegie Mellon University’s Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence and Educational Innovation. Many students like to sit in the same spot throughout the semester, so they may stay put after anyways.
  • Annotate the roster. During or after class, if a professor learns something interesting or distinct about a student, they can make note of it on the roster to jumpstart their memory.
  • Use technology. Some universities utilize NameCoach, in which students record the pronunciation of their name and share their pronouns. NameCoach can be integrated into the learning management system, as well, making it easier for faculty to review. A software-free version is to have students submit a video or audio file of themselves saying their name and pronouns to the learning management system where it can be attached to their student file for easy access and review by faculty members.
  • Ask students to introduce themselves. Often, students don’t know their classmates’ names, so asking each student to make a short introduction of some kind can help build community in the classroom. One way to do this without making students embarrassed or uncomfortable is to pair them up to interview one another and then have the peer partner present their introduction.

Learning names can be challenging but even the learning process can show a professor is making an effort. Ohio State University’s Teaching and Learning Resource Center encourages faculty members to use the names they do know and to ask students to repeat their names if the professor has forgotten them as a way to help build trust and demonstrate care.

Do you have an academic success tip that might help others encourage student success? Tell us about it.

Next Story

Found In

More from Academic Life