Learning Names

catmemeA struggle for NETs, particularly those who have many students, is learning the names of all your students.  I guess I am lucky in that regard, I have under 80 students altogether and in some classes, I have less than 20.  Learning names has been, nonetheless, a taxingly difficult task.  Korean names have always sounded bizarre to me (and I was embarrassed to discover that this difficulty doesn’t go both directions, at least for some Koreans.  They have no difficulty with English names).

It may just be my lack of familiarity with everything Korean, but I am getting better at hearing something that “sounds like” a name, and categorizing it as such.

I am ashamed to admit that even after 5 months, I don’t know even half of my students names.  I have tried a few things, but just getting conversations going is a difficult task, setting aside my precious little classroom time to learning names seems wasteful.  And yet, research shows that our brains activate different regions when hearing our own names as opposed to other peoples names.  I’m not sure what the conclusion of that is, but it is something.  Our names mean something different to us.

Add to that, most NETs don’t learn their students names, which gives the students more excuse to discredit the NETs ability (They don’t even know my name), even if only below their conscious-awareness.   Or, some English teachers do the very strange thing of assigning (or letting the student choose) an English name. (this blogger does a great job of explaining it).  It would be very interesting to see if the same regions of the brain activate when hearing your birth-name, as opposed to a chosen or assigned name.  I suppose it may be fun for the student, it may help them immerse in a foreign culture (though, I’m not sure what that means in the Korean classroom).

Many times when I meet a new person, they will introduce themselves with an English name.  I’m not quite sure what it is; but for me, on my side of that conversation, it feels less-than authentic.  It feels… false.  I understand that the intention is good-natured and not in any way an attempt at deception.  But on the other hand, I am giving you my intimate detail, my name.  You have given me a handle, a nickname, an ID, something which masks.  It’s kind of like someone introducing themselves by saying, “Hey, just call me PaRtY-TiMe!”  I almost always ask the person what their “korean name” is and they usually show a look of surprise, say something like, “really?” and then give me their name.

Now, certainly, I have to hear the name more than once.  And often they have to walk me through the pronunciation, and maybe it is this conversation they are wishing to avoid.  But, for me, it’s about being equals with another human.  You know my name, please, help me know yours.  Let’s start this relationship, of whatever depth or length, on equal ground.  Let’s not handicap it by giving preference.

–I have a lot more to say about Korean identity and the presumed American linguistic “authority”, but we’ll leave that for another time.

In summary, it is hard to learn names.  So what do we do?  Well, here, I am going to present one idea.  Facebook.  No, not the actual facebook, but a paper-facebook.


facebook template – link to PDF file

The original idea came from an ESL resource site that I have, embarrassingly, forgotten the name of.   This particular rendition is highly modified however.  The original included the profile picture and background space.  But the iconic Facebook top-boarder and Timeline look are my additions.  Originally, it looked more like a traditional pen/paper journal, with question prompts and lines.  As you will see, this particular version allows the students more creativity, (and it could allow even more, or restrict it, depending).

I will say, the original question-prompt-lined-response style probably directs the students to use written language more, and that is certainly a worthy objective.  My objective was different.  I wanted to learn names.

So I let them loose.  I gave them a quick tutorial using my own and my niece’s facebook profiles (my niece is about the same age as my students).  They didn’t really need the tutorial, but I hoped it gave them some ideas to be creative.  A jumpstarter.

I split this activity into two class periods.  The first was devoted to filling out the profile part. The profile picture, background, friends, about and likes.  The language aspect was me circulating through the students as they talked with each other, wrote things down, and did some artwork.  I would ask students things like, “You like ‘league of legends’.  What do you like about it?”  “Who are these drawings of?”  “How do you spell your name in English?”

To be honest, it was nice.  I was able to engage more students (though not in any great length) at a personalized level.  They didn’t need to be focused on a particular grammatical structure or lexical item, it was just a conversation.  I wonder if my lessons shouldn’t be more like this in general.

I also discovered a big embarrassment for some of my students.  They don’t know how to spell in English.  For some of my students (the 3rd graders) it is too late for me to help them there, they are on their way to high school.  Hopefully their new teacher can help them out.  I did what I could, helping them at least write down their name.  But I will need to focus on that for the next semester.

The second class period was devoted to the “my favorite thing to do” box.  I did this two different ways.  With my 1st graders, I had them write down their favorite thing to do.  I circulated and helped and questioned them.  Then they passed their papers in a circle and “commented” on the previous persons profile.  I tried to let them be as free as possible in their expression and hoped they wouldn’t devolve into cruelty.  Thankfully they didn’t.

The other version included watching the Disney short Paperman.  

For the most part, I chose this video because it doesn’t use language.  I didn’t need to prep the students to hear certain words, and I didn’t need to play it more than once for them to get it.  Besides, it’s a sort of cute story.

After watching, the students “commented” on it.  Again, free expression.  I didn’t put any restrictions on their words but you certainly could, to get a more directed effect.  For example, some of my students didn’t write full sentences (something that happens on facebook, though I would like to make sure they follow accepted facebook-language social protocols before they just write fragmented sentences freely).  But you could ask them to write any number of more specific things.  For example, you could split them into groups, or pairs and give them specific things or events or visuals or sounds in the video.

You could ask them to write two sentences about why they didn’t or did like the video and then give it a grade.  Anyway, point is, lots of options.

–To end, here is some of the work of the students.  First an 8th grader.  She spent a lot of time doing the drawings.  Her “favorite” thing to do says, “I like to go to bad (sleep)”.  A common (and telling) comment among the students.


This young woman wasn’t too interested in the drawing, but her comment on the video led to some good responses.


This one gets included as winner of “Best Artwork”.  Very light on the language.  Her interests are, simply, “boy”.


A personal favorite here.  The young lady’s “favorite thing to do” is to “sexy sing”, (sing sexy songs? I suppose?  I’m not really sure what she means by this.  Maybe “sexy singing”? )  I saw the boy who wrote the only comment and I asked him what he meant by “nothing” and he said, “Nothing to say.”  or in our parlance  he gave her the “…no comment” dismissal.


And finally, the most impressive profile linguistically.  The young lady was an over-acheiver and answered the question in the box before I asked them to comment on the video (notice her answer, “sleeping”).  My favorite comment at the end, about the video, “people are disgust[ing].  Because very tall and big.”facebook5

2 thoughts on “Learning Names

  1. People are disgusting when they are tall and big? Some very good artwork! This lesson good. I like bed too.
    It drives me crazy that you didn’t make them write in complete sentences! But I get it, so carry on.


  2. And I find it less weird to hear Ms. Rasmussen than I do to hear my first name. It’s always a bit of an out of body experience for me, like, are they talking about me? Do they mean me? Weird.


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