Published 17th April 2018

One of the most important skills in being an EFL teacher is something that is not really related to teaching. It’s something that can be done by any EFL teacher in any classroom and is highly appreciated by our EFL students, yet it is something that is commonly found by EFL teachers to be quite difficult.

What is this elusive talent?

Learning our students’ names!

Why is learning our students’ names important?

Individual attention is an important part of the learning process. The feeling of belonging to a class, being recognised by the teacher as an individual and not just as another bum on a seat plays a big part in motivation. A learner that feels valued by their teacher is more likely to want to come to the lessons, participate in the lessons and work hard at learning the language. Plus it contributes to the overall morale of the class.

Why is learning names so difficult?

You may wonder why this is such a big deal. Surely learning a few names can’t be that hard? Well, you’re right. If you have one class of twelve students that you see all day, every day, then learning their names won’t be hard. However, the majority of EFL teachers have classes of between 25 and 30 students and they can see five classes a day, five days a week – each class only once a week. This means that at the beginning of every term when they are given new classes they will need to learn 625 names. Doesn’t seem so easy all of a sudden, does it?

How can we learn our students’ names?

  • Use name tags: It’s not the end of the world to ask your students to wear nametags for the first month or so, even adults. For Young Learners you can spend a lesson writing name tags and decorating them. With older learners you can use the time to get to know your students’ personalities as well as get to know their names.
  • Play games: At the end of the first few lessons with your class play a game related to names. If the students already know each other then you’ll need to make sure the games are fun as well, because you’re really playing the game for your own benefit!
  • Use their names in activities: Whenever you do an activity, make sure it includes their names. For example, when the students report back on their partners after an activity make sure they use their partner’s name and not she or he.
  • Repeat: During your lesson, say your students’ names over and over. Whenever you call on a student to answer a question or ask for an opinion or close the door, use their name.
  • Ask: The first few weeks you are allowed to ask their names repeatedly. Students understand you have a lot of names to learn and they will appreciate you trying to learn them. After a month or so it can become awkward to ask for someone’s name so take advantage of the initial grace period and always ask if you have forgotten someone’s name.

Learning names seems like such an easy thing to do. It’s not, but it will make the world of difference to your relationship with your students.