The first day of school! Middle school students and teachers approach the first day of school with a lot of emotions: excitement, anticipation, even apprehension. The first day of school is so important for teachers in setting the tone for the school year. You’ve planned and prepped! You’ve spent countless hours thinking about how incredible the new year is going to be! You’ve agonized over bulletin boards and desk configurations! You’ve emailed parents and ordered supplies! Finally, school is back in session and throughout that first day, you have 100 or more students filing in and out of your classroom! How in the world are you going to remember all of them? Not to mention, assess their levels, differentiate teaching and assignments and help them learn and grow throughout the year??
What’s a teacher to do?
Secondary teachers are faced with this unique challenge as we have SO MANY wonderful students each year! In one of the schools in which I taught I had six sections of 35 students each! That was 216 in one year! Believe it or not, by the end of the first day I knew most of my students’ names; by the end of the week, I had them all memorized.
Don’t panic! While generally in my everyday interactions with others I am definitely not the best at remembering names, I’ve used this trick for years and it has never failed me!
I typically begin by asking students to write down three unique things about themselves. When students have had time to finish, one-by-one, we go around the room and each student states their name and shares their three attributes. After each student shares, everyone in the room repeats that person’s name and then the names of the students that have gone before.
Still with me? Let me give you an example:
I would begin and model by sharing three attributes about myself. I might say:
“I am Mrs. Nelson. (1) I have two fake teeth. (2) I love The Great British Baking Show. (3) I love football and have been a San Francisco 49ers fan my entire life.”
After I share, the entire class would repeat in unison, “Mrs. Nelson.”
Next, we would go to the first student. Let’s say her name is Jill. Jill would stand, introduce herself to the class and share three unique things about herself. She might say:
“My name is Jill. (1) I am a professional tight-rope walker. (2) I have created and published six iPhone apps. (3) I have seventeen dogs, twelve cats, a pair of canaries and a boa
constrictor as pets.”
Following Jill’s introduction, the entire class would chorally repeat her name together and then my name, like so: “Jill, Mrs. Nelson.”
We would then proceed to the next student. Perhaps his name is Damian. Damian would stand, introduce himself to the class and share three unique things about himself. He
“Hi, my name is Damian. (1) I have read the entire Harry Potter series seventeen times. (2) I can do a 1080 on a snowboard. (3) I have traveled to every state in the United States.”
When Damian has finished, the entire class would repeat his name, then work backwards back to the teacher, like this: “Damian, Jill, Mrs. Nelson.”
The pattern continues until every student has had a chance to make their introductions and we have repeated everyone’s name. I can absolutely guarantee that everyone will be 100% certain who Jill is by the end of the activity! If you have a few minutes to spare, you might even challenge students to individually repeat everyone’s names. It’s actually quite fun to see who can remember everyone!
I won’t lie to you: this strategy does take a bit of time, but I promise the investment is worth it! I love making personal connections with students on the very first day of a new year so that they feel known and welcomed in my classroom. One on my favorite ways to begin building working relationships with my students is to learn their names as quickly as possible! In my opinion, it is worth every minute it takes to get to know your students’ names on the first day. You will be in a better position to teach your kids as individuals, they will feel recognized and accepted in your classroom, and, by beginning to get know one another, the students are on their way to creating a great learning community!
What do you do learn students’ names? Leave a comment below! I’d love to hear your own strategies and ideas!
Good luck! May you have a fantastic school year!
Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)