Needs Focused Teaching

How to learn 40+ students’ names FAST


You can easily learn a class of 40 names in one lesson with this method. It’s all just a matter of concentrating for a few minutes at a time on this single task and you’ll be amazed how powerful it is.

Start by drawing a seating plan – a quick sketch of the layout in the room with enough space to write each student’s name in the picture of their seat. Next, you need to get them all engaged in a settling activity. Give them each a simple and enjoyable ten-minute task – any ‘settling starter’ will do. Each student needs to be sitting fairly quietly for around ten minutes without needing your assistance or attention – they should be able to just get on without your help while you add their names to the seating plan.

Hot tip: Get a responsible student to add his/her classmates’ names to your seating plan (i.e. write each student’s name on the plan in the place they are currently sitting). This eliminates the chance of some students giving you false names which can happen when you’re confronted by a ‘streetwise’ group.


Once that’s done the fun starts. While the students are working, take a name from the seating plan and find the individual in the sea of nameless heads. All you do now is link a crazy image with their Christian name in your head. The weirder, bigger, more colourful, strange and humorous you can make this image the better. It should take no more than 30 seconds per person.

We remember pictures more easily than we remember names, and we remember odd, weird and funny pictures far more easily than ordinary ones. For example, if James is sitting at the front desk, an image that springs immediately to my mind is the Roald Dahl link – a giant peach. I would, therefore, spend a few seconds looking at James’ face, imagining his head as a huge peach – complete with a few large insects eating their way out! Obviously, James wouldn’t be aware that I’m doing this – although he might wonder why I keep smiling at him! Heather could be identified by the very messy heather bush on her head in place of her hair, with a swarm of bumblebees buzzing around her head. I might put Robert behind bars or in handcuffs, wearing a stripy shirt and eye-mask as a ‘robber’.

For non-Anglican names, the connections may be a little more abstract but the process is essentially the same. Sudeepa’s name sounds a little like ‘so deep’ when I say it to myself, so I might imagine her standing on the edge of a lake or looking into a deep well. Muhammad, a very popular Muslim name, conjures up images of ancient Arabia for me, so I might see him adorned with long white robes and a headscarf. Alternatively, if he’s a lively character, I might see him more as Muhammad Ali, wearing bright red boxing gloves. Adding personal characteristics such as temperament and hobbies to your linked image can be a big help when it comes to remembering names, particularly when you have more than one student with the same name and you have to distinguish between them.

Once you’ve learned your students’ names in this way they will be cemented in your mind for good. Really simple, and it really works. And when you dismiss them all by name at the end of your first lesson together (without so much as a glance at your seating plan), the look on their faces is priceless.

Want More Resources & Tips?

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Take Control of the Noisy Class

Motivate the Unmotivated

Attention-Grabbing Starters & Plenaries

Classroom Management Success in 7 Days or Less

The Active Learning Tool Kit

The Fun Teacher’s Tool Kit

Connect With Your Students

The Behaviour Tool Kit