Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Classroom Community Day Two: Name Games

There used to be a man at Peaceful Valley Scout Ranch in Elbert, Colorado by the name of Chuck Forsyth. He was the ranger, the man in charge of all the support for camp. He lived there year round, took care of all the facilities and got trucks running again at the start of the summer. He bought all the tents, tools, and lumber for camp. He probably did an armful of other things I don't even know about.

He has a full gray beard and piercing eyes. He has a great sense of humor, but you didn't see it before he got to know you. When I first starting working at camp, all I knew was that if I broke anything, I'd be having a talk with him, and knowing that I made sure I didn't break anything.

Chuck had gotten to know me a bit better by my sixth year at camp, and he told me about a staff member who had worked there before my time.

"He did the most important thing any staff member could do," Chuck said. "He learned the two most important words for every scout."

What are those, I wondered. Merit Badges? No, that's lame. Scout Oath and Law? Not two words.

"Their first and last names," Chuck said.

I had a teacher in high school, Father Burshek, who taught world religion (comparative theology) to the seniors every year. He was considered by the student body to be one very cool guy. He had a love for music and one of the most comprehensive collections of jazz music (rumor had it) in the world. I was surprised when he greeted me by name in my sophomore year. The only time I'd seen him was when he gave Mass one Thursday a semester. I'll never forget how cool I felt - "Father Burshek knows me. He knows my name."

Rumor has it that Father Burshek flipped through the Rolodex of student names and pictures before the start of every year, memorizing the names of every student in the school. All the incoming freshmen, any transfer students, and reviewing everyone else1.

All teachers, I think, know how important it is to learn the names of their students. But few teachers do everything they can to ensure their students know the names of each other. I attended a tracked school (school within a school) of 360 students, but never attended my core classes with the same 90 students every year for three years. I should have known everyone's name by the end of middle school, but I think I might have known only half, and knew only ten or twenty after my first year there. Middle school was not a good time for me. Knowing names works both ways - you feel more comfortable when people address you by name, and less anxious when you know the names of everyone.

There are two name games I play on the second day of class, but I'm sure there are many more and probably some better ones out there2. Name tags are great too, I think. I used to think they're kind of silly, but I think they can help a lot. You might not wear them for these games though, as it sort of defeats the purpose.

In the first, everyone sits in a circle. The first student says their name, then the person to their right says the first student's name and their own name. Then the person on their right says the names of the first and second students, and their own name. This continues through the whole group until the first student who started says the name of everyone in the class.

  1. The second and third person to go don't really need to listen to everyone else say their name, only the first person and those who are waiting to go. You could possibly fix this by making everyone repeat everyone's name at the end of the game, if you had the time.

  1. The names are repeated 20 to 40 times, depending on the number of students in your class.
  2. Students don't get to choose who's names they remember, they have to say everyone's, whether the student is in their social group or not.

The second game I enjoy a lot more. You'll need six tennis balls. The students all stand in a circle. There are a few rules: you have to say the name of the person you're throwing the ball to before you throw it; each person should get the ball once, but only once; you need to remember who threw the ball to you, and who you threw the ball to. The teacher can start by saying the name of a student and throwing one ball to them. Once you have the ball again, make sure everyone has thrown it once. Then, tell students they will throw again following the same pattern as before; everyone throws to the same person they did during the last round, only faster. You repeat as many times as you want, eventually adding more tennis balls and throwing them to the first student at intervals after the first ball is thrown.

  1. Some students might get a little rowdy when they get to throw balls around the room. I tell them if they drop a ball, they have to start over. Usually this way they throw more gently and work together to make sure everyone catches the ball.
  2. I was the kid everyone made fun of in gym class - my bodily-kinesthetic intelligence is pretty low. Some kids who, like me, can't catch, might feel the eyes of their classmates, but you can encourage a positive atmosphere. The countermeasures for the first disadvantage can help here too.

  1. Everyone knows the name of the person they threw to during the game and hopefully picked up some other names as well (the names are repeated as many times as you play, which could be a lot if you go all the way to six balls, no mistakes).
Previous - Day One: Information Sheets
Next - Day Three: Classroom Grid
1. There were apparently at least two rumors about Father Burshek and I can't really confirm either one. The Rolodex makes a nice teacher legend though. Go back.
2. If you know other name games, you should definitely leave them in the comments. Go back.


  1. Names- it seems like something so simple and yet they are important as your personal story demonstrates. Sometimes in this very anonymous technology/internet/web 2.0 world, it is very easy to forget that there is a real person behind the words.

    Your philosophy of making all students important comes through very clearly in activities that allow your students to get to "know" each other and yourself.

    In Peace, Heidi Pence :)


  2. I give students a test on each others names at the end of the first week. they usually do quite well and this gives them incentive to learn each others names and how to spell them correctly as well as a chance to have early success in class.

    A couple games I play with them to help with the learning are two truths and a lie and I love my neighbor.

    2 truths and a lie...go around the room and make three statements about self, one is a lie. the rest of the class guesses which one is the lie.

    I love my neighbor....put chairs in a circle (desks don't work) with one fewer than players, the one standing in the middle. That person says "My name is_____and I love my neighbor who____" filling in the blank with a statement that is true for that person and others...whoever it is true for must change seats, must move at least two seats away and if left standing becomes the one to make the next statement. loads of fun to play with students.

  3. Thanks for the comments.

    Sydney - I have thought about a test, but wasn't sure if it was fair for me to do so when I struggle so much with them myself. And I always hesitate to use grades as an incentive. But knowing that this has worked well for you will make me set it on the back burner next time I do the activity.

    As you'll see, on days 4 through 6 I do two truths and a lie. I think your other game, I love my neighbor, is great. Another way for students to see who has some similar interests and traits in their class.