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Back to School Activity to Help Teachers Learn Student Names

Updated on August 30, 2012

I’m a university English and writing professor and learning the names of my students is always one of my biggest challenges at the beginning of each new semester. It seems as if the cards are stacked against me: large class sizes, only two meetings per week, not to mention numerous roster changes and the problem of frequent student absences.

When I taught high school, however, I had a number of techniques and activities that helped me learn my students’ names quickly. I tried everything from seating charts, the name game, to student interviews and the following bulletin board activity has been most helpful for me. It has allowed me to learn my students name quickly by associating them with an item of personal significance. Furthermore, this activity gets students actively involved so that they get to know each other too which is so vital in creating a safe and friendly classroom atmosphere cohesive to learning, sharing, and exploring. What’s even better is that this bulletin board activity allows the teacher to learn more than just a student’s name. And after all, the more we can find out about our students—the better we will be able to individualize instruction.

About the Bulletin Board Activity

I became a teacher because I love literature and writing and because I have a true passion for education. While I truly believe I’m a great teacher, my gifts do not extend to the area of classroom décor. I hate (and I mean detest) setting up bulletin boards. I do not have an artist bone in my body and I forever scrutinize my plain, compulsory decor in contrast to the explosions of color and creativity down the hall.

That is…until I discovered this little cheat: I let the students decorate the bulletin boards at the beginning of each term.

Each class is given their own bulletin board (or part of one, depending on how many classes and/or bulletin boards I have) which is labeled with their class title (ie: English 10; English 12 AP etc). Then, on the first day of class, the first piece of homework is to bring something that represents them to pin on the board. I explain that the following day we will all do a little “show and tell.” Each student will explain why that item is significant to him/her and then s/he will put in on the board where it will remain for the rest of the term.

Not only does this allow me to get to know each of my students names and a bit about them, but the class members get a good sense of each other. Furthermore, my other classes always have a great time sizing up all the bulletin boards.

The Teacher's Prep-work

By the first day of school, I will have already decorated my own section of bulletin board, which is labeled with my name, with items significant to me. I include things such as an Oregon State University pennant, a picture of my kids, a course map of my favorite marathon route, a logo from my favorite pizza joint, the Marine Corps seal, cover of my favorite book etc.

This gives a students a good example of what is expected and, of course, allows them an opportunity to get to know me a little bit too.

A Few Ground Rules

Obviously students may not display anything that is obscene in nature or that is in conflict with existing school policies. I encourage students to be creative and think outside of the box—is a photograph the absolute best representation of themselves? Or can they do better? I encourage them to think about their passions, goals for the future, hobbies etc when making their selection.

What to Expect

I’ve had students bring everything you can imagine. Yes, I’ve seen a lot of logos from favorite sports teams and bands, but I’ve also been pleasantly surprised. Students have brought original art and poetry, ticket stubs, and cancer ribbons. One student brought cloth he knitted from alpaca yarn. Perhaps most memorably: a $10 bill. Why? Well, in reality I’m acutely aware of the fact that this student had forgotten about the assignment and reached into his wallet for a saving grace, but he rationalized it by explaining that he loved money and planned to be very rich one day. As you can imagine, I learned a lot about him and each of my students that day. Amazingly, the $10 bill stayed pinned to the wall the entire year.

As you can see, this bulletin board activity has been very helpful for me. How do you learn student names? I'd love to hear your thoughts; leave your comments below!


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    • RobinGrosswirth23 profile image

      Robin Grosswirth 5 years ago from New York

      I think your idea is creative and more importantly, your students enjoyed it too (usefulness as well as pleasure).

      I used to use a crazy literacy process to learn names. For example:

      Robin (Red Robin, Rockin' Robin)

      Mark (Macho Mark)

      Gail (Giddy Gail)

      Of course, the descriptor could match the personality.

    • iheartkafka profile image

      iheartkafka 5 years ago

      This brings up a great point, prekjr.dc, this activity is well suited for any grade level. While I used it for high school students, it would work just as well for elementary students. Obviously, the whole idea is to get to know your students and allow them a sense of ownership of the classroom. Thanks so much for your thoughts, and yes, Semper Fi! :)

    • prektjr.dc profile image

      Debbie Carey 5 years ago from Riverton, KS, USA

      Great idea! As a former preschool teacher, I appreciate your dilemma! On the first day, I sent home a large yellow star for the child to attach items of interest or personal value. Then each child had a turn with show and tell and like your bulletin board, we all learned so much from it! Like preschoolers we all learn when we have "ownership" in the activity! Love it and Semper Fi! I am the Mom of a Marine! God bless and welcome to HubPages!!