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Build classroom rapport by easily learning student names and faces with your smartphone!

As teachers, we often ask our students to do something that is difficult, something that they do not want to do. One of the few reasons they will is because they like, trust, or respect us enough as people and as professionals. However, that relationship is something that we need to develop and, to be honest, is something that we need to earn. One of the best ways to start creating that relationship with your students is to know their names and faces. You need to show them that you see them as people, not just faceless numbers, that you care.

A side benefit is that, as a classroom management tool, being able to call on students by name who are engaging in the inappropriate activity is much more effective just saying, “Hey, you!” while pointing in their direction.

While many educators know that building rapport or “human connection” with their students is so important in teaching, they often have many students and large classes, making the process seem overwhelming. Name cards are one option, and some teachers go even farther, collecting photos and pasting them to the card. However, this can be time-consuming and difficult to do.

Based on years of experimenting and tweaking, below is my suggestion for what I think is the best way to quickly and easily learn all of your students’ names and faces with just a smartphone and the free Quizlet flashcard app. While the initial process does require some time, the payoff of knowing your students’ names and faces in class is well worth the investment.

In class:

  1. Have students create paper name cards by preferred method.

  2. Take two photos of students: one with the name card visible (for reference); one with no name card (for flashcard).

After class:

  1. Create a study set for the class in the Quizlet app.

  2. Create flashcards for each student: “student name” as the ‘term’ on the front, and student photo from a smartphone as the ‘definition’ on the back.

When finished, you will need to change the study settings so that you see the student photo (definition) first when studying. While Quizlet has different study modes, the basic “Flashcards” study mode is perhaps best.

Of course, there are other flashcard apps or websites, but based on my use of many of them, I recommend Quizlet. Please be aware that the settings and buttons may be different between the iOS app, Android app, and Quizlet website.

Once you have your Quizlet study sets completed, you can easily study and review your students on your smartphone. You can also access the study set when you need to find a student’s name or face for administrative reasons.

In my case, on the first day of class, I explain what I am doing and take my students’ photos. I also tell them that I am going to test myself in front of all of them in the next class.

After three days of study, I stand in the middle of the class and do my best to match names with faces, usually with 80-90% accuracy. Based on the smiles on students’ faces when I get their names right and the comments I overhear, I know I’m doing the right thing.

And I keep doing it: I review their cards throughout the whole semester and use their names as much as possible both in and out of class because I want them to know that I care, that they can trust me. Photo Credits: Photo by Edwin Thomas Unsplash


After graduating from university in 1991 with a degree in physics, Rich taught physics and math at the high-school level in Fiji with the United States Peace Corps. He then obtained his MA in TESOL at Wright State University, Ohio, USA in 1995 and has taught for over 20 years, including in the United States and Kazakhstan. He has been teaching English in Japan for the last 12 years at Tokai University, Kanagawa, and Asia University, Tokyo. His main interest is MALL (mobile-assisted language learning) both in terms of teaching English and his own Japanese language study. Contact:


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