The Importance of Using Names in Teaching

The Importance of Using Names in Teaching

by Jennifer Cochran

How Do Show Respect for Our Students?

“Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” – Dale Carnegie

World renowned business man, Dale Carnegie, was extremely smart when it came to understanding verbal communication. Although he wasn’t technically a language teacher, he spent many hours thinking about the power of words. Here was a man who knew what to say and how to say it. Considered brilliant for effectively motivating people, no matter the situation, he is fondly remembered for his famous (best selling and widely used) books on influencing others. Naturally, as educators, we also want to positively influence people, particularly our students. Because Mr. Carnegie’s strategies worked so well (whether to sell a product or make a friend), this suggests his advice might also work just as effectively in education.

What is in a Name?

Having outlined dozens of strategies to influence others, the simplest of Carnegie’s suggestions proved the most powerful – – he reminded everyone of the importance of names. When speaking with anyone you wish to listen to you, he cautioned everyone that you should use a person’s name often, sprinkling it at the beginning, middle and end of a conversation, reminding the listener that you know who he/she is and appreciate him/her.

All teachers, of course, want to make students feel appreciated. However, there a variety of reasons why teachers may be reluctant to say each student’s name confidently. Here we will review each issue and suggest ways they can be addressed in order to create a personal learning space, one where students don’t feel like strangers (even if they are new).

How Can Teachers Remember Dozens, Maybe Even Over a Hundred Names at Once?

One teacher friend has what she calls her reoccurring September nightmare: 150 students and only one of her. It’s a common fear. How is someone supposed to remember all those names simultaneously, whether in a conventional classroom or even more so online (where some teachers will have different students each week)?

Six Strategies to Remember Student Names

  1. Repeat the person’s name in your mind and aloud as many times as possible when first meeting them
  2. Develop some type of visual or word association with their names while picturing their faces
  3. If you meet with a group of the same students each day or week, create a visual chart of their names and associations
  4. Because technology has become so easy to use, classroom teachers might also make a quick slideshow on his/her tablet or phone – adding the student’s photo, name written on the slide and an audio recording for pronunciation. This memory aid can also serve as a great welcoming display for future open houses with parents or for end of the year celebrations. Surprisingly, it only takes a few minutes.
  5. The tried and true memory game (where everyone goes around the room and says the names that came before his or hers) also works well for larger groups.
  6. Empower students to make their own suggestions for remembering their respective names. For instance, you may ask something like, “what’s a cool word that rhymes with your name?”

When Teachers Have Difficulty Pronouncing Student Names

Teachers, to the surprise of many students, are human. We make mistakes; when these mistakes are in front of our students, we usually suffer some embarrassment, particularly with the student whose name we have terribly mispronounced.

Ways We Can Avoid Embarrassing Name Issues

1) Before calling out/ saying student names, acknowledge that you may say them incorrectly and apologize. Though this gesture sounds like plain common sense, it’s something teachers can easily forget in the rapid pace of the classroom.

2) Preface calling out names with a short personal anecdote of when you or someone you knew had their name mispronounced, noting it’s not intentional but happens to almost everyone at some point.

3) In the case of language learners, a teacher may also start the lesson by quickly discussing why certain sounds, such as a rolling “r” for native English speakers, are difficult to say due to language differences.

When Students Must Choose English Names

As the world of education becomes an increasingly global environment, due to technology, the demands of simplifying online teaching has prompted many online companies, particularly those teaching English to Chinese students, to adopt the practice of having students choose English names to be called in class. This is also often true when teaching English in Chinese conventional classrooms. Usually, this is done because western teachers have difficulty pronouncing the sounds native to Mandarin, which again can be very embarrassing for the teacher and student alike.

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Reciprocity Makes a Difference

Asking students to choose a foreign name is understandably a sensitive issue, one that might make both the student and teacher uncomfortable. As already mentioned, to every individual, his/her name is special and something deeply tied to identity. As a result, some students may resent having to be referred by a foreign name. While some students enjoy the novelty of picking an alternative name (creating a sort of separate identity or alter ego), many other students consider this task to be an additional inconvenience meant to make the language instructor’s job easier (Chinese names are particularly difficult for Western teachers to pronounce).

In order to create a space in which teachers show they understand choosing a foreign name isn’t always an easy thing to do, an instructor may offer to reverse roles, asking students to choose a foreign name for him/her. Asking, “what do you think would be a good name for me, if I had to choose, would be and why?” opens a friendly discussion about words and their associations.This small gesture, which many students find amusing and empowering, gives the classroom a feeling of mutual respect for cultural differences.