3 Ways You Can Use Name Tags to Engage Students

Here are 3 ways you can use name tags to engage students. Hopefully, these ideas will inspire you to go beyond “My Name Is ________" and try something new!

Many of us use name tags or table tents on the first day of classes.  Often, we use them as part of introductions or some type of "getting to know you" activity. But, you can do more! In addition to helping you and your students get to know each other's names, these little pieces of paper can be valuable tools to engage students, encourage collaboration, and create a positive learning environment.

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The Benefits of Using Name Tags in Your Classes

Name tags are readily available, fairly inexpensive, easy to use, and very adaptable to any type of learning environment. And, they can be used in a variety of ways.

You can use them to help "break the ice" and reduce anonymity. You can use them to establish a sense of community and set the tone for your class. You can call on students by name and personally thank them for a response, making the learning environment more collegial.

Name tags can also be excellent tools for starting conversations, discussions, and networking.  They can be used for assessment and attendance purposes. You can use them to form teams or groups. And when you link them to a learning outcome, you can actually connect name tags to the course material.

In and active learning environments, it's important to engage students on the first day, right from the start, so they begin to understand the shift in their roles and responsibilities. Name tag activities such as these can help engage students immediately and make the active learning experience less intimidating.

3 Ways You Can Use Name Tags to Engage Students

1. Add color to your nametags.

Instead of using name tags that are all the same, try adding different colors. Suppose you need to form small groups for collaborative activities later during class or throughout the semester.

Choose different colors for the nametags, and then you’ll have an instant way to form groups quickly and efficiently. Your students will be able to form a green group, a blue group, a red group, etc.

When you want to mix things up, you can ask students to form groups containing one member from each of the other groups ("Each team should include a member of the green, blue, and red groups").

During a discussion or question-and-answer session, you can also use the color of the name tag to encourage more students to participate. Call on students who have a green name tag to answer a specific question and then ask students with a blue name tag to follow up or present a different viewpoint.

With different colored name tags, you can mix and match groups, topics, and discussion to keep everyone engaged and on task.

2. Use the name tags to collect questions.

This strategy works best near the end of class time and with name tags in plastic sleeves (like the ones you typically see at a conference).

Near the end of class, when the name tags are no longer needed that day, ask students to write one remaining question they have about the topic on the back of their name tag. If you have time, collect the name tags and use the end of class time to address some of the remaining questions.

This works well because you know who asked the question and you follow up with additional resources or support if needed. If you’re out of time, use the name tags as a focusing activity in the next class to maintain momentum and provide continuity between lessons.

If you want to involve students in more of the process, ask them to exchange name tags and challenge students to answer each other's question.

3. Add areas of expertise to the name tag.

If you assigned a reading or video before class, or if students have been working through a series of topics throughout several days or weeks, ask them to come to class prepared to teach their colleagues about one specific point they feel they are most knowledgeable about.

Basically, each student will become the expert (similar to the paired jigsaw technique). When students arrive to class, ask them to write their area of expertise on their nametag. Maybe they can complete the sentence, “I’m the expert in ________.” Or, "I know the answer to ______."

Then, as you facilitate the lesson, you can call on the experts in the room to share their knowledge and add their thoughts to the discussion. Or, you may decide to divide the students into smaller groups and give them time to ask the expert questions and share their knowledge with their peers.  

These are just a few strategies to maximize the use of name tags and engage students. By incorporating activities such as these into your class, you can go beyond icebreakers, build community, and establish an environment where students can easily collaborate and share ideas about the course content.

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Now it's your turn! What are some ways you've used name tags to engage students? Share your ideas in the comments below!

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