Helpful hints for tutors

So I bragged a bit about my students’ response to my tutoring, and in discussion, Hugh asked for the secrets of my success, which I duly gave, including this piece of advice:

I make a big effort to learn all my students’ names, and use them.

But George said, “How?!”

Here I reveal my best technique for learning students’ names – the seating chart.

In the first tutorial, I get my students to give me their full name, and tell me a little bit about why they are doing the course. I try to make comment back to each person, using their name (basic memory technique). But more importantly, as we go around the table, I write down each person’s name around my cunning seating chart.


For the rest of that session, I work on remembering names, keeping the chart in front of me as an aid. I also tell them exactly what I’m doing. Next week, as people come in and sit down, I try to recall their names, and use them, and ask them to correct me if necessary, and I write up a fresh chart as I go. Alas, the students don’t sit in exactly the same place each week, though as it turns out, most students tend to sit in more-or-less the same area each week, or at the very least, on the same side of the table in relation to the windows or door or whatever. It’s as though they find a comfortable spot, and then stay there.

I find that I usually have to do the chart for about four weeks or so. By then, with a bit of effort, I have most of their names in memory. It’s worth doing – most students seem to really appreciate being more than just another number.

Any other helpful hints for tutors? All suggestions will be gratefully received, from tutors or tutorees.

Cross posted


6 comments on “Helpful hints for tutors

  1. kate says:

    You’re quite right, having people in the class know who you are makes a big difference to how it all works out (doing the reading, turning up, talking in class etc). The only thing I’d add is making the learning names thing a class activity, so it’s not just that you need to learn names but everyone learns everyones names. The most rewarding classes I did as a student were the ones where I got to know people well enough to have a proper discussion.

  2. Christina says:

    i don’t know if it helped the students (maybe by opening up the discussion?) but something that really helped me be more confident as a tutor was when I realised that I didn’t have to try to answer every question myself . I think students generally got more out of engaging with and discussing other people’s questions than listening to me rabbit on at length.

  3. Mikhela says:

    Knowing names is such a small thing, but so powerful!

  4. Nick Thompson says:

    I completely agree about the names, both between teacher and student, and between student and student.

    Luckily our student record system lets us print out a photographic class list which I pin by my desk until I’ve memorised their names.

    However, sometimes I think the success or otherwise of a tutorial is due in part to a group dynamic that I’m not 100% sure how to define.

    For example, most of the people I teach with agree that each year has a distinctive ‘feel.’ Some years are incredibly rewarding to teach; with others you feel as though you’re having the life-blood sucked out of you.

    You practice all your teacherly arts on both groups, but one year it works, and the next year it doesn’t.

    I think that ‘feel’ may depend on the presence of a few bright, sparky students who are also friends with each other. That relationship they have with each other seems almost to snowball and take the rest of the class with it. And to some extent I find this is reflected in the feedback I get at the end of each semester.

  5. M-H says:

    One of the best things a tutor can do, IMHO, is to let the students know stuff s/he doesn’t know. I have seen senior staff struggle with an original idea from the class, and swallow the affirming “You know, I’ve never thought of it like that before”, more than once. I wanted to shout “You ass! Say it! We know you don’t know everything about this – why keep up this charade!” It taught me a lot about tutoring, being a very mature and observant undergraduate.

  6. Make Tea Not War says:

    There’s a lot I could say about this:

    It’s lovely if you can remember students names but if you can’t remember or pronounce every bodies names it’s best not to use names at all. Students will pick up on it if you refer to everybody by name but them.

    Small groupwork is the very best way to get everybody participating but you have to use it carefully. Give groups very clearly defined goals and time the discussion carefully

    Before the tutorial think very carefully about the key concepts you want to convey. There shouldn’t be too many of them and also be clear about the areas where there is room for discussion and divergent views

    Always be respectful of students views and remember it can take courage to express said views in front of a class. Students should feel like the tutorial is a safe space where they won’t get ridiculed or put on the spot in an unkind way

    People find tutorials most satisfying when they feel they worked out the answers themselves rather than being told the answers by the tutor.

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