Six ways to learn and/or remember your students’ names

Rather strange name tag I found on the net. Name tags are very useful for first classes though!

One of the key challenges teachers face at the beginning of a new course is to learn and remember students’ names. I know that for me it causes quite a bit of anxiety, especially on the third or fourth day with them and the class still looks like a sea of unrecognizable faces. Over the years I’ve developed several strategies to help in this, often picked up from wiser more experienced colleagues. Thought I’d pass on the top six…

1. Make a floor plan or use name cards

Make an outline of the classroom, and on the first day go student by student, asking their names and completing your plan. Leave this on your desk and, for the first few classes at least, make sure people sit in the same spot for the beginning of the lesson. Or ask students to make a little name card and place it on the desk in front of them.

2. Play a name game.

Yes, this is the first thing that many an English teacher does with a class. It often involves tossing a ball around and calling out names. I was right into ball-tossing around ten years ago in my career and then all of a sudden I thought (perhaps unreasonably?) that it was too childish. Of course if you are teaching children then fine.

Another name game involves saying names in a chain “My name’s X.” “This is X. My name’s Y” etc. Or adding something personal about yourself “My name’s X and I thought Terminator Salvation was awful” “His name’s X and he thought Terminator Salvation was awful, my name’s Y and I loved the film the Hangover”. You get the idea. The problem with name games is that if you have a class of over twenty students the ones at the end of the chain start moaning that it’s too hard. In that case, divide them into two big groups.

3. Use names as much as possible.

More effective than a one-off game is to start using students’ names as quickly and as often as possible. This is the way I remember. There may be mistakes at first, but sooner or later it always sinks in. Use names when you call on students, when you praise them or when you ask questions. If you make a mistake with a student’s name, make sure you use the right name the next time and do it quickly.

4. Take register aloud often.

Make a regular habit of taking the register/calling attendance. To keep you, and the students, alert you can add variations to this routine. Instead of saying “present” ask them to respond by saying the name of a fruit or vegetable, or an animal. Or ask them to respond with “present and…” plus another adjective (e.g. present and ready, present and tired, present and happy, present and bored…). One variation I often do is to take register by SPELLING students’ names in English to which they have to answer.

To add more variety, ask different students to do this task.

5. Ask them when you forget.

I think many people (myself included) are nervous or ashamed if they forget someone’s name. Often this results in avoidance strategy (“oh no, can’t remember her name… ok I’ll ask Mika instead”) which means some students may end up getting ignored. Don’t be afraid to apologise and ask a student’s name – “Excuse me, I’ve forgotten your name/ I’m sorry, what’s your name again?” This kind of formula is in fact very useful language to teach students as well.

6. Be devious.

Of course, there are more devious tricks we have up our sleeve. I wrote about some of these here, and they include ways of getting students’ names. Some other of my favourites are: to ask a student on the spot to spell his/her name, ostensibly to test their spelling skills; to take the register and make a big show of pretending that you don’t know students’ names (when in fact you don’t for some of them); or to play a “correct the teacher” game where you say things and the students have to correct you (start by saying “Your name is Charles/Charlotte” to a student whose name you have forgotten and they have to correct you). Thanks Kyle Mawer for teaching me some of these tricks by the way.

If six ways just aren’t enough for you, if you’re still having problems and want more tips then go to this post by Alex Case. He’s got a bunch more!

How do YOU remember students’ names? Post a comment.

Published in: on September 4, 2009 at 12:13 pm  Comments (19)  
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Six ways to use a list

Since I’m going to be rabbiting on about lists at various workshops I’m doing I thought I would save the bother of making a handout and simply include here some teaching tips. There are of course six of them. A longer version of these appeared in Humanising Language Teaching and It’s for Teachers magazine.  Here are my top six ways to use a list in class.

1. Dictation

Introduce your list, and simply dictate the items to the students, who write them down. Ask students to check their dictations in pairs afterwards and have one pair come and write it on the board.

A variation would be to dictate the items first and ask students to guess what they think the list is about.

Try it with: This basic technique works best with lists of short items (no more than three or four words) and words that the students recognise – don’t use it with names of people for instance.

2. What’s the list?

Write up some key words from the list randomly on the board (these could be numbers, or names of people or places). Introduce your list and explain that you are going to read out the items on it. Tell the students that they have to number the words on the board in order that they hear them.

Read out your list. Check the answers to the order of items. Then ask students to work in pairs and retell as much of the information as they can remember, using the words as a prompt.

Try it with: This works well with lists of facts about something, somebody or somewhere.

3. Mixed up list(s)

Give students items from a list in a mixed up order. This could mean putting each item on a different slip of paper or, if all that cutting up seems to onerous, simply jumbling the order of items on a piece of paper.

Ask the students to try and put the items from the list in the correct order.

Try it with: This works only with lists which are a ranking of some kind (for example, most popular leisure activities, top ranking movies of all time etc). It’s best too if the items are not too long.

4. The students’ list

Introduce the subject of the list (e.g. 10 top things to do in your city) but without saying what the items are. Ask students to work in pairs and brainstorm 10 different things for the list. Ask each pair to work with another pair and combine their lists into a new list of 10 things. Then do feedback on the final lists as a whole class.

At the end of the discussion, read out (or distribute) the original list for students to compare with. Do they agree with the author of the list?

Try it with: This activity works well with lists that are based on opinion (the best things to do in X city, the most newsworthy items of the year etc).

5. Work on intonation

Lists can also be used to practice pronunciation. One characteristic of lists is that the intonation usually rises on each item of the list (as if indicating “I’m not finished yet”) and falls on the last item (as if indicating “I’ve finished now”).

 You can raise students’ awareness of this by asking to listen to you read the list with this intonation and mark their own arrows. Then ask them to create their own (more common, or useful) lists and read them to each other with the correct intonation.

Try it with: Almost any list of short items – even a shopping list. Read out the items on the list, paying attention to the intonation. Then ask students to do the same, in pairs. Finally, ask students to make their own lists. For example:

Today I have XY, Z and English class.

I’d like to visit X, Y, Z and ZZ. Etc

6. As a springboard for discussion

Of course, many lists can be great as a springboard for discussion and conversation. Some ways you could do this would be: to ask students to underline the items they found most interesting/unusual/typical and compare with a partner; discuss what items are missing (in their opinion) from the list; discuss a different order to the list or simply talk about the topic that the list brought up.

Try it with: Any list that you think will spark interest!

Published in: on April 2, 2009 at 1:57 pm  Comments (6)  
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Six things about teaching aviation English


In my business English teaching days, I used to think that it was pretty cool to be teaching in a motorcycle factory. Actually that was about as exciting as my ESP (English for Specific Purposes) lessons got. Nothing compared to Henry Emery, who teaches pilots and air-traffic controllers and is a co-author of the course Aviation English (Macmillan 2008). I caught up with him at the British Council Innovations Awards Ceremony this year…and asked him six things about it.

Since I began to specialise in language teaching for aviation personnel some years ago, I’ve found that it’s a very infectious area of ESP – once you’re in, it’s difficult to get out. I met Lindsay at the British Council ELTons awards ceremony earlier this month, and when he invited me to jot down six things about what I do, I asked myself ‘what do I enjoy so much about this field?’ The following is an attempt to explain. 

1. The students

Aviation personnel are a professional, bright and driven bunch. Take airline pilots. So many of the pilots I meet describe their work as their hobby – they would rather be at 36’000 feet than anywhere else. With the industry language proficiency requirements in place, pilots have just two years to reach an ‘operational’ level of English. Consequently, the motivation to maintain their license is extremely high. It is a pleasure to support such learners as they work towards these very concrete language learning goals.

2. Safety 

It is difficult to think of a domain of language use more safety critical than air -ground communication. When things go wrong on the flight deck, pilots and air traffic controllers have to get their messages to one another quickly and effectively – in these situations, there is no time to lose. As a teacher, you have to be constantly aware that every lesson you give may have a direct impact on flight safety. This is a good reality check as you trudge into the classroom for the last lesson of the week.

3. Radiotelephony

 The majority of air ground communication is conducted in standard radio-telephony phraseology, a specialised and very restricted code relating to routine aircraft movements and procedures. It’s pretty easy to learn – there are some very good CD ROMs available  (Try or click here) and you can listen to live radio communication on the net (see here, or this site or this site). However, teaching phraseology is not the job of language teachers – this is the domain of subject matter experts. Beyond getting familiar with the discourse, radiotelephony does present a unique set of parameters for the language teacher. It means taking extreme care with the way language is taught and practised in the classroom, and it means working closely with operational subject matter experts in delivering language lessons and courses.

 4. The subject matter

Aviation is not just air-ground communications – it is a huge field of ESP and there is simply so much to learn. Whether you are working with cabin crew, maintenance engineers, managers, ground staff or flight dispatchers, there’s always something new and you never get tired. Working with pilots and controllers, the subject matter can be very complex and technical, and this certainly requires quite a lot of effort on the part of the teacher. But learning more about the way the industry works improves your classroom performance and makes being an airline passenger so much more enjoyable too!

5. Teacher development

There are plenty of very exciting opportunities for teacher development in the aviation field. Consider, for example, watching a maintenance engineer disassemble a jet engine on a workbench in a hangar. Or watching a radar controller line up half a dozen heavy jets for landing. Or experiencing takeoff in the jump seat of a 737. Not your typical day at the office! Rolling your sleeves up and getting stuck into the aviation domain is the best way to whet your appetite for the classroom.

6. The challenge

English teaching for the aviation industry has been around for years, but the new language proficiency requirements for pilots and ATC have created a new climate for English language education and assessment. There is very little published teaching material available and very few quality language testing systems. Frankly speaking, the ELT and aviation industries do not know very much about ‘plain English’ for radio communications; there is not yet an established corpus, and there is much research to be done. For any teacher wishing to dive into an exciting and relatively unexplored area of language teaching, the aviation sector would be a very good place to start.

henry1About the author

Henry Emery is co-author of Macmillan Education’s Aviation English, an award-winning language course for pilots and ATC. He is also co-director of emery-roberts,  an aviation language training company working in partnership with Oxford Aviation Academy,  the world’s largest independent flight training organisation, providing specialist language teaching and testing programmes.

Click here  for information on the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Language Proficiency Requirements



Published in: on March 22, 2009 at 6:29 pm  Comments (5)  
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Six ways of remembering new words

Photo by Kevin Rosseel taken from Morguefile.comHere’s a useful list for learners. I usually go through a list like this with a class at the beginning of a new course and ask them to suggest other ways. Then, as homework, you can give them a list of words and ask them to experiment with a different way of trying to remember them than what they are used to.

1. Make a list with translations. The most traditional way, the way that most learners will do anyway. Many teachers and people who write about teaching criticize this way. So did I, until I took a German class a few years back and guess what, I found myself making lists of new words and their translations. Still, it is only one way and there are others.

2. Make a mindmap. Great way to present a vocabulary set, it’s best to plan the outline of one of these before and then get students to help you complete the rest. There are computer tools now that make good mindmaps – one I’ve used recently is I’ve made a partial mindmap with this tool and then given it to students to complete in pairs. I’m planning on assigning students homework making their own mindmaps with it.

3. Write the words in a sentence. A good way to contextualise new vocabulary. Encourage the students to make meaningful and memorable sentences. For people that aren’t very creative, making personalised sentences with the new words is a good option.

4. Record the words in phrases, collocations etc. The lexical approach and new developments in corpus research have shown us that words do not exist in a vacuum. It’s good to get students in the habit of recording words with frequent collocates and common phrases. The teacher can set the example by including useful/frequent phrases with new words as they come up and writing these on the board.

5. Make a story including the words. This is an interesting option for higher level students. It does make the words more memorable, I think, but can be very difficult for uncreative people. Maybe a collaborative story by students in groups would be an alternative.

6. Do a drawing or some kind of memory trigger. Great for artistic students, get them to show the others. You could make a “gallery of new words” section of the class wall or bulletin board. Another memory trigger could be based on a translation. I had a great book called Spanish by Association that worked like that. Here is one example: The word for Spanish is arroz. Imagine a hail of arrows flying towards your bowl of rice. Silly, but I’ve never forgotten it.

Does anyone else want to suggest a good way of remembering new words? Post your comments below.

Published in: on February 7, 2009 at 11:11 am  Comments (3)  
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