This is a guest post by Bob Madigan who has written previously on this blog. Bob is a teacher and describes how he remembers the names of his students.
Remembering the names of people in a group can be made easier if the names are available beforehand. I am a teacher and I have this situation when a class starts. Typically there are 30 to 40 people in a new group, and I like to try to learn their names as early as possible. Usually I have them by the end of the second class. Here is my approach.
Before the first class, I study the computer listing of names and put them in a journey with one name at each locus. I use the standard techniques that Charles has described in earlier posts for encoding names. I practice the journey enough so that by the day of class I can rattle off the list of names forward or backward, but more importantly, when I look at one of the names I can easily visualize the place where it is located on the journey.
This preparation greatly simplifies the task. I don't have to learn the names since I know them. I just have to associate a distinguishing feature of each person with the locus where his or her name is stored.
I get there early on the day of the first class and as the students assemble I steal a look at each to identify a feature I will later associate with their place on the journey. When it comes time for introductions, I move to each person in turn so I face them as they say their names. I ask them to not only give their names but also some information about themselves - typically their major area of study and their year in school. I don't try to retain these facts, but by moving around and by asking for extra information, I slow the process down a little so I have more time to associate the feature I have identified with the place in the journey where the name is.
Usually I do the introductions toward the end of class, and as I am walking away afterward, I run back through the journey and visualize the feature of each person I have placed at each locus. This immediate rehearsal helps lock down the information. Almost always I will find there are a couple of names where the features are too fuzzy to be helpful, usually because I let my concentration slip during the introduction. In the next class, I make it a point to get those names. I also make sure I can mentally name each of the others as they assemble on the second day. If not, I go over to the student and reintroduce myself.
Learning names is a highly desirable social move that pays dividends by facilitating rewarding interactions. When I learn the names of my students, I turn a sea of faces into a collection of interesting individuals with whom I now have an important connection. It completely changes the experience from the front of the room.