Remember them this way

1st August 2003 at 01:00
A new job, a new class - and 30 new names to learn.Bill Tindall explains why there's no need to make a song and dance out of it

The first day in a new job and all those faces to identify: it can be a headache. But the remembering names is a skill we can all develop. I am confident that I can learn 30 names in a morning. And so can you - provided you learn how.

It helps that I am very VAK - that's visual, auditory and kinaesthetic. So I don't sit poring over lists. I like to interact with the pupils and their names: how they sound, how they are spelled - even turning it into a game or a lesson.

I might burst into song as soon as a child tells me their name: Maria springs to mind, courtesy of Leonard Bernstein. Once, when I had a Bob and a Robert in the same class, I mimicked Rowan Atkinson's bathplug-echoing pronunciation of the former and turned the latter into Roberto with a full-throated Italian flourish. Exaggeration is part of the armoury of accelerated learning and has the advantage of fixing things in the mind.

The secret is to make strong links between the name and the face, and to transfer the information, visual and verbal, into your long-term memory.

Then use the name every time you speak to that pupil - to reinforce it in your mind, and to create a good impression because everyone gets a glow of pleasure from being remembered correctly.

Apply your powers of observation to the newcomer's appearance. In the same way you focus when drawing, concentrate on the details of the hair, eyes, nose. Imagine you have all the elements of the identikit artist's toolkit.

Now move to the auditory component. What is special about the sound of the name? Repeat it and use rhythm to emphasise the phonemes, the syllables.

Then turn your attention to spelling. "What's your name?"

"Hannah."

"Hannah? Great! Do you know what's special about your name? The way it's written down. Let me show you." Write the name on board or flip chart.

"Hannah, you're a palindrome - you read the same forwards and backwards. A big hand for Hannah, the palindrome."

Investigate the history of names. People like to know what their names mean. Ask Sophie if she has any idea where her name originates, or Luke.

See if there are pupils with the same or similar names, or with variations of spelling - particularly across cultures, such as Joseph and Yusuf.

On the second meeting with any group, run through in your head briefly all the names you know as you scan the sea of faces. With practice, these techniques can be applied quickly and become an unconscious element in the act of getting to know others.

Bill Tindall has taught in secondary, primary and middle schools. He runs courses on thinking skills at Model Learning, tel: 01277 202812

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