Starting a new class - Part One: Learning Names

Starting a new class - Part One: Learning Names

Age Group: All Ages
Subject: Classrooom Management, Listening, Speaking

My name is Hall Houston. I’ve been teaching English in Taiwan for over 10 years in language schools and universities. I’ve also written numerous articles (and 2 books) on language teaching. In this column, I’m going to share with the EIT audience some practical techniques for teaching English. I’ll do my best to present activities that are simple and don’t require a lot of preparation. As this is a website for English teachers in Taiwan, I will make the ideas relevant to the context of Taiwan wherever possible.



Starting a new class by Hall Houston

Part One – Learning Names


In this series of articles, I will give some tips for teachers starting a new class. The beginning of a new class can be an exciting, yet stressful experience. Everyone will be meeting each other for the first time. No one knows exactly what’s going to happen in those first few lessons. Therefore, it’s best to approach the first week with some clear goals.


When you begin the first lesson, you should try to:


  • learn the students’ names
  • learn a little about your students (interests, likes, dislikes, jobs, education)
  • also provide opportunities for students to learn the previous two items
  • tell the class about yourself and your teaching style
  • find out what your students’ expectations are


Icebreakers are activities that are tailor-made for achieving these goals. We’ll kick off this series with some basic icebreakers for learning names.


1) Learning names is essential to getting closer to your students and bringing them closer together as well. Students are always impressed with a teacher who knows his/her name. Here are some simple ways to lock their names deep within the recesses of your long-term memory.


a) Students can fold sheets of paper in half and make placards with their name on it. During each lesson, they can put their name placards on their desks.


b) Use their names often. Call out a student’s name when asking a question or when greeting a student at the beginning or end of class.


c) You can accelerate your retention of student names by using two names in a sentence. For example, “Mary, ask Bill question 5.” or “Jim, what did you think of Bill’s answer to question 5?” or even “Jim, why do you think Beatrice fell asleep?”


c) When students are doing group work or filling out work sheets, scan the room and try to remember every student’s name. You might not remember them all the first time, but work on learning more names every week.


2) Use these activities to help the students learn each other’s names:


Shaking hands


Ask a student to come to the front of the class. Ask “What’s your name?” After they answer, say your name and shake hands with the student, adding “Nice to meet you”. Now ask students to walk around the classroom and do the same. Later in the class period, you can quiz students on the spot: “What’s her name?” “What’s his name?” “What’s my name?” Optional: you can also teach them some useful phrases such as “Can you say that again?”, “Can you say that a little slower?” and “How do you spell that?”


My name is and I like . . .


Say to the class “My name is _____________ and I like __________.” (Make sure you fill in the blanks with your name and something you like.) Now ask a student to read out the sentence, using their own information. The next student will repeat this sentence in the third person, and then give their own version. Continue this procedure, with each student repeating what all the previous students said.



Student 1: My name is Bill and I like swimming.

Student 2: His name is Bill and he likes swimming. My name is Maria and I like reading.

Student 3: His name is Bill and he likes swimming. Her name is Maria and she likes reading. My name is Tom and I like drinking coffee.


If you have enough time, you can repeat the activity going in the opposite direction.

Variation: You can use other sentences here:

“My name is _________ and I can’t stand ___________.”

“My name is _________ and I’m good at ___________.”

“My name is _________ and I’ve never _________________.”


Three times


I learned this fun game from Nick Bilbrough’s marvelous book, Memory Activities for Language Learning (Cambridge). The rules are simple: Student A calls Student B’s name quickly 3 times before Student B is able to say the Student A’s name once. If the Student A isn’t fast enough and Student B calls his name, he has to go again with another student’s name. If Student A succeeds, Student B has to take his place in the game. Play for a few minutes before beginning a lesson.


In the next section of this series, I’m going to share with you a few activities for helping students to learn more about each other.



Hall Houston teaches at Kainan University in Taoyuan County, Taiwan. His articles have been published in periodicals such as It's for Teachers, Modern English Teacher and English Teaching Professional. His first book, The Creative Classroom: Teaching Languages Outside the Box, was published in 2007 and his most recent book is Provoking Thought: Memory and Thinking in ELT. His third book, The ELT Daily Journal: Learning to Teach ESL/EFL, will be available in 2013.

EIT Featured Writers

Hall Houston teaches at Kainan University in Taoyuan County, Taiwan.

His articles have been published in periodicals such as EFL Magazine...

2016-04-13Professional Development for English Teachers in Taiwan Part 1
2016-04-13Professional Development for English Teachers in Taiwan Part 2
2014-09-09Realia Activities for ESL Students
2014-09-09Creating and Performing Dialogues in the Classroom
2014-08-15Brainstorming – Part Four by Hall Houston
view more lessons...

James Greenshields has over a decade of teaching experience in Canada and Taiwan. He is currently the Academic Director at Robert's American School...

2014-09-10Teaching the 5 Paragraph Essay - Great Details in Support Paragraphs - Part 5
2014-09-10Teaching the 5 Paragraph Essay-Conclusion-Part 6
2014-06-09Teaching the 5 Paragraph Essay-Introduction -Part 3
2014-06-05Teaching the 5 Paragraph Essay-Supporting Details-Part 4
2014-05-13Teaching the 5 Paragraph Essay - Part 1
view more lessons...

Rob Minor is the curriculum designer and director of Robert's American School in Kaohsiung, Taiwan.

Rob has been working EFL educati...

2014-10-02Class Management Tips for ESL Teachers
2014-09-23Teaching Reading to the ESL Class-5 Strategies PART 1
2014-09-23Teaching Reading to the ESL Class-5 Strategies PART 2
2014-02-10Climbing Jade Mountain-Yushan 爬玉山
2013-12-09Mt. Hehuan North Peak hike 合歡山北峰
view more lessons...

To Top