Tag Archives: cliques in nursing

#1 ten tips for new nursing faculty – name tags at school

new series

Announcing a series of blog entries for nurse educators. For the next few blogs I am going to share some hands-on ways to make the class hum. Surely you know what I mean. Sometimes every one gets to a class with enthusiasm, ready to share and participate; other times the group trudges in, head down and dispirited. Forced to be there against their will. Which class room experience would you rather have?

today’s tip – name tags

Something I do at the beginning of each semester is to get a box of name tags, the pin-on kind. on the first day, there is a table at the door to the class with lots of marker pens. Instructions: “write your first name on this tag, using the whole tag; write it in letters so big that an old man can read it from across the room”  then I explain the system for collecting them at the end of the class.

was this worth writing about?

Yes, this is so simple it sounds stupid, perhaps not worth writing about. but for those who dismiss it: do you know the name of every student in your class? especially at the beginning of nursing school, the students have come from prerequisite science classes where maybe there were 300 people in a lecture hall ( happens in a lot of Universities). They become accustomed to the idea of anonymity.  There is a lot of sociological work about what happens to people when they feel they are totally anonymous….. In a work setting in health care, anonymity is never an option. start now to get people used to this.

an alternative

The University used to photograph every nursing student and keep the photos on a shared database with their names. for cost reasons we don’t do that anymore. But, with the advent of smart phones, one thing I did recently was to take each student’s picture using my own smartphone, along with the email and number. I indexed the photos in such a way that if I forgot the students name during class, I could scroll through the photos and remind myself. At the end of the semester I delete each class, but then I find I can still remember them next semester even though I have to learn sixtyfive new names and faces.


the students will learn each other’s name. In a big classroom, don’t assume that they know each other. sometimes they only stick with a subgroup such as from their clinical site.

you grab their attention when you call each student by name in class. The students know that they can’t be anonymous during a class discussion.

if every one picks up their name tag at the beginning of each class, you can easily tell who is absent simply by looking at the leftover name tags.

If the students are wearing a name tag with LARGE LETTERS, you don’t need to  be close by to remind yourself who they are. For a male faculty in this age of political correctness, this is a good thing,  since there is a taboo about glancing down at a woman’s thorax to read their name in small letters.  the awkwardness of this can be avoided.


people lose the name tags.

people may protest that it isn’t “cool” – and frankly, sometimes the faculty can’t be bothered….. that is a problem. You do need to get the faculty to buy in and enforce it if the course is team taught. A box of name tags costs $20 and you can’t afford to buy a new box each week.

invariably, as the semester proceeds, people sometimes try to fool you by trading name tags with somebody else or perhaps deciding that everyone will be “Barbara” on a particular day. Actually, when that happens, I interpret it to indicate that the students are having fun.

ways to use this system

we once had a cohort in our lab class where the students seemed to form cliques that did not mix. In that lab session, there were three clinical groups and they stayed amongst themselves. nursing students need to learn to work well with others and to keep themselves fresh. We decided to put a small fish sticker (like you buy at the Drugstore for kids) and add a sticker to each name tag. When the time came to break up into groups of three, we told them to arrange themselves so each group of three was composed of one person from each of the three groups, using the fish stickers as a guide.  problem solved.

Philosophy of cliques

I have referred to this a bunch of times without clarifying why it is so important to break up cliques when they form. Generally, when the students clump together, the subgroup will include all the top students in one clump. When that happens, the lesser achieving students are deprived from working alongside them and learning from their peers. I will write a longer blog on this later – I believe that forming cliques is something that contributes to ” Nurses Eating Their Young”

We used variations of this all semester long. Whenever the class breaks into smaller groups, you can choose to direct the class as to how to compose each group.

Thes tips all come under the header of “Classroom Management” techniques – if you were teaching in third grade, you would probably take a three-credit course in this. Not so much of a priority in nursing education.



Filed under classroom management, nursing education

The Ultimate Multicultural icebreaker for nursing

Update August 17, 2015. This blog entry has had 1985 views. If you used this after finding it here, please post a comment to let us know how it went. inquiring minds want to know!

also: I have worked in many settings where I was the only outsider and there was a distinct cultural identity of the group, including trips to Nepal to teach nursing to batches of Nepali nursing students. To read about that experience go to Amazon and buy The Hospital at the End of the World, (my first book), or else buy one of my books. Browse my blogroll.

Honolulu Hawaii is the most minority-majority city in the US. Our classrooms in Honolulu reflect this.  You would think that inclusiveness and respect for multiculturalism is ingrained, but it is not… Even here, there is no guarantee that the subgroups within a class or cohort will mix unless we actively promote the idea. Frankly, we always have a subgroup of European descended students from Da Mainland, who start off by sticking to themselves. They need to get hip in a hurry. My goal has always been to prevent any group from forming cliques that don’t mix with the other subgroups. I’m pleased to report that by the end of the time here, these students have become culturally sophisticated. That’s what you want for a nurse!

And of course in nursing, you need to be comfortable with care delivery across a wide variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds. It is not unusual for me to have a clinical group in which there are no “Howlies” or be caring for a patient group in which everybody is from one Asian culture or another. It’ s something I love about Hawaii.

What is an icebreaker?

It’s an exercise used when a group is forming their identity, designed to get them members to mingle and learn about people in the group they might otherwise not interact with. We do this particular icebreaker on Day One of nursing school.

Disclaimer: this one is best when there is a high number of English-as-Second-Language students in the group.

How I came up with this: it is probably not new to me. The first time I ever used it was in Maine. At a nursing school there, the population of faculty and students was mostly Mainers; but we also had a dozen or so RN-to-BSN students who were Korean nationals with limited English skills. They  did not mix and it was painful to watch. So we organized a “tea.” At the tea, the Americans sat on one side and the Koreans on the other, each uncomfortable as to how to get started.

It was like a Junior High Dance, all over again…..then…. I did this icebreaker. Magic happens.


everyone  stands up and stretches.

then, those who only speak English are told to sit down.

Announce: “one of the great things about nursing is the opportunity to meet people from different cultures and to learn from each other. I love the idea of feeling at home no matter where you may be in the world”

“if you only speak English, you are at a cultural disadvantage, and we need to address that. Those who speak more than one language are waaaaay ahead of you.” ( usually people are surprised by this)

The multilingual persons are then dispersed around the room. The English-only students grab a pen and scrap paper, and divide up in to small groups, each led by one of the multi-lingual students. In Hawaii we usually have students that speak: Hawaiian, Ilokano, Tagalog, Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Samoan, and Thai. We also get a smattering of European languages as well. The more languages, the better this one works. One of the memorable ones was from South Africa who taught us something in Zulu. wicked cool!

Next, each group has five minutes in which the leader teaches a phrase in their language, to the English-only students. chosen by the multilingual person. doesn’t need to be long.

then the large group reconvenes and each group recites. we go around the room.

During the recitation, I am usually pretty theatrical, seeking ways to get the larger group engaged. I use all the skills I perfected back along when I was the front man for a polka band that played a lot of wedding receptions.

serendipity happens:

one time a German-speaker taught a beer-drinking song. I got the entire group to stand and wave their arm to-and-fro as if hoisting a mug.

a male  Ilokano-speaking student recited a love poem in Ilokano – the class was in stitches

we teach people the proper way to bow when with a Japanese person.

We teach about eye contact in Asian Cultures, using a specific game. students pair off, holding hands. if one of the pair looks away, smiles, or laughs, they must sit down. I once did this with Japanese students and they all sat down within five seconds; an American pair can last for two minutes.

If somebody writes using a foreign alphabet ( such as Japanese or Chinese) we ask them to write it on the board and everyone copies it.

We had a student who was fluent in signing for the deaf and taught the gestures to accompany the chosen phrase.

we did once get an Aussie student who taught some Aussie slang ( sort of cheating but it was funny).

There are an infinite number of variations. there are a million ways to use this; With an Italian speaker, for example, you can include hand gestures.

Success depends on the verbal quickness and eclecticism of the moderator. You can convey a sense of inclusion and fun.

Evaluations for this have been overwhelmingly positive, esp from among our English-as-a-Second-Language students. often, these persons get socially isolated due to language insecurity. Weeks or months later, some of these persons will take me aside and thank me for helping them by doing this.

in Maine? back to the original group in Maine – the Koreans and the Mainers.

All the Americans learned a phrase in Korean and found a way to remember the Koreans as people, not simply “Koreans.” I was instantly famous.

Here is a video of an icebreaker that was a dismal failure.

On the evaluations, I did have a person write “I have always disliked forced socialization exercises” – I think it was from a European-descended individual from a very reserved culture. There is always somebody at the back of the classroom who displays the haughty ennui of having done this too many times. Cut them some slack. You can’t please everybody, and obviously, the exercise was not designed for her.

This is my gift to you

Nowadays nursing schools everywhere are more likely to have students from diverse backgrounds that are breathtakingly representative of the whole world. If you teach in a multicultural classroom, you are invited to use this icebreaker. let me know how it works for you!


Filed under nursing education