Recently, I wrote a blog post with 10 things they don't tell you about teaching elementary music, and realized I should have added one more thing to the list: that you'll have to remember hundreds of names. Certainly, no one told me that I'd have to remember so many names! One of the great things about being a music teacher is teaching so many students…but that means there are a lot of names to memorize! I often have a hard time remembering a person's name after meeting them at a party, but yet, I CAN remember 650 or so student names. So how do I do it? Here's my list of strategies!
#1: Gathering song
At the beginning of my Kindergarten and first grade classes, I sing “Here we are together,” to the tune of “The more we get together.” Instead of, “'cause your friends are my friends and my friends are your friends,” I sing all the students' names around the room, so the lyrics are like:
Is it hard at the beginning of the year? Yes! Especially with Kindergarten, whose names I'm just learning. But it forces me to really learn their names so it doesn't take so long to get around the circle!
After the gathering song, I listen to 4-5 students sing solos. I'll sing to them “Hello ________,” using solfa we're preparing/ practicing, such as s-m-s-m or s-l-s-m, and they sing back “Hello Mrs. Miracle.” Then I'll ask them a question, such as “What's your favorite color?” or “What did you do this weekend?” or “What's your favorite food?” It helps me get to know them better, helps me hear who well they are matching pitch, AND it helps me learn their names better!
#3: Name games
One of my favorite name games is called “Rickety Rackety,” and goes like this:
Students put the beat on their laps as they say it, then each child says their name, and we all echo. (So we say the chant, a kid says his/her name, we echo, we say the chant again, etc.) I love this name game because it's great for steady beat and it's a GREAT way to get their names in my head! I also have had them clap their names, which is a great way to prepare/ practice rhythm!
For the older grades, my all-time favorite name game is called “Jump in.” Here is a similar rendition to the one I do with my kids:
#4: Studying pictures of each class
My first year at my new school, ALL the students were new to me, so I took a picture of each class and labeled their names to help me remember. I kept this list in with my seating charts for a quick reference, and would often just sit and study the pictures to help me remember.
#5: Seating charts
Speaking of seating charts, these are a great way to remember names! I have used the Smart Seat app, which allows you to take pictures of each student, but you could also just have a written out seating chart and look at it as you are teaching to help call on kids.
#6: Mind games
Sometimes I just have to play “mind games” with myself to help remember kids' names. Remind yourself that Molly has a mole and her twin sister Ava doesn't. Or if the are truly identical and impossible to tell apart, memorize which twin is in which class. Or if you have a hard time mixing up siblings, tell yourself that A comes before S in the alphabet, so therefore Adam is the oldest and Sean is the youngest. Or just tell yourself, “She LOOKS like a Sydney.” These little tricks seem to work for me!
With seeing my students less than before–just once a week–I have been making more mistakes with names (or maybe I should blame that on getting older?!?!) When I make a mistake (most often calling siblings by their other sibling's name) I gently remind students that I know exactly who they are, but with 600+ names to remember I sometimes make a mistake, and that I'm sorry. They are pretty understanding!
Besides the benefit of being able to give directions to a student without saying “Hey, you,” by memorizing all of these names, you are telling your students that each one of them is important to you. And that's a pretty cool thing!
What are your strategies? Feel free to comment below!