10 ways to remember students’ names

Excerpted from the YLO89 Feature Article “How To Care For Students”
by Doug Fields

See all our #BackToSchool themed posts here.

This material is originally from the “Leaders are Learners: 15-Minute Youth Ministry Training” Series

Leaders Are Learners is a series that I did for volunteer youthworkers to help them in their journey of becoming more healthy and effective. Before we go any further, I want to thank you for serving God through your love for students and I want to thank you for learning. Leaders are learners and when you stop learning, you’ll stop leading.

Also, thank you for being a significant adult in a teenager’s life. Teenagers need adults who will take an interest in them, love them, and point them in the direction of God’s passionate and unconditional love.

Let’s start with the very basics of youth ministry: shepherds know their sheep by name. You might be thinking, “I was afraid you were going to say that. I’m lousy at names.” Well, so am I, and, so are the majority of youthworkers I know. It’s an easy excuse to fall back on.

I recently had a student say to me, “Thanks for knowing my name; that means a lot to me.” I know it means a lot to teenagers, because it’s their greatest possession. I felt good when he said thanks, because more often students say, “Hey Doug, what’s my name? I bet you don’t remember.” Many times, I can’t. Shame, guilt, and inadequacy quickly follow.

A name is a personal and powerful possession. It’s part of an identity. To know a student’s name is to know part of his or her identity. Let me give you some practical suggestions for memorizing names.

  1. Take photos of students and review as flash cards.
  2. Repeat a student’s name three or four times in your first conversation. (“It’s great to meet you Tina. So, Tina, where do you go to school? Hey, Tina, how many times, Tina, do you think, Tina, that I can say your name, Tina, in a sentence, Tina?”)
  3. Ask for identifying information that can solidify a name. (“Hey, let me see your drivers license, student ID, passport, bail bond, tattoo … “)
  4. Associate his or her name with someone else you know of that name. (Dave – tall, thin, goofy hair – Dave Letterman.)
  5. Study his or her face while you’re being introduced.
  6. Transfer the name to a concrete image (Mike – like a microphone)
  7. Ask the student to test you on it. (“What’s my name, Doug?”)
  8. Write it down (into your phone, on your hand, whatever). The act of writing it will help you retain it.
  9. Ask God to help you remember and care, because we remember what’s important to us.
  10. Or, forget all these ideas and use nametags.

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One Response to 10 ways to remember students’ names

  1. Benji Ferguson says:

    Thanks Doug, I’m a veteran youth worker and just moved to a new church after 12 years in the same place, where I had gotten to the point of knowing almost everyone. One of the most overwhelming things is learning all the new names. I often use the excuse that I’m bad with names as a crutch and yet I know how important it is to students especially that you know their names. Another step that I’ve used is creating a facebook page for my youth group and encouraging students to sign up for it. Then I don’t have to awkwardly say, ‘let me take your picture’ I can just use the facebook page where they have posted all of their awkward pictures on their own 🙂

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