Friday Lesson: The Importance of Names

Last week we shared the first in a series of classroom community building Activities aimed at helping you start the school year off on the right foot.

The handshake activity we shared is a great method for “breaking the ice,” building rapport, and practicing social introductions and names.

A key ingredient for creating a positive environment in the classroom is to help students know and use each others’ names correctly from the very beginning of the school year.  Even in small school districts where educators might assume students already know each others’ names, many actually don’t or are not always using and honoring each others’ names in a respectful way.  Name activities can help groups of all ages not only learn and practice names but explore the concepts of connecting with others, honoring individual strengths and personalities, and showing respect.

Here are a few of Jen Stanchfield’s favorites from her book Tips and Tools for the Art of Experiential Group Facilitation. These activities engage students in a playful and non-threatening way.


Name Meanings

When people have more information to associate with a person’s name, it helps them make a stronger connection and better remember that name.  I recently learned a simple but very effective activity from a group of teachers in Laconia, NH.

Facilitation Suggestions:

•  Simply ask the group to line up silently by the number of letters in their name, or preferred nickname.

•  Once the group is successful, have them go around and share their name, clarify the correct pronunciation or nick-name, and share anything they would like about “the story of their name” (i.e., what they know about its origin or meaning, whether it is a family name). Most importantly this is an opportunity for students to take ownership and share with the group the CORRECT pronunciation or nickname.  Something that often gets overlooked or mistaken in school settings.

This activity is a particular favorite because groups find it interesting and fun.  It helps students connect, learn more about each other, and make associations that help them remember other group members’ names. It even works with large classroom groups. Students seem to want to listen and share about this kind of “personal” information.  It is especially effective after a few warm up activities (see our previous and upcoming posts).

This activity could stimulate conversation with students and their family members, and be tied to a family tree activity. It also can help students become comfortable with “seminar style” sharing in their classroom.


Name Roulette

I learned this kinesthetic activity from Karl Rohnke (Rohnke & Grout, 1998).

Facilitation Suggestions:

•  Divide participants into two groups and have them form side-by-side circles.

•  Place an object between the two circles that acts as a marker.

•  Have both circles of participants shuffle left or right while facing the center of their circles—no looking over shoulders.

•  When you say stop, the two participants who are at the marker have to turn around and name the person they are now facing.  Whoever names the other person first captures that person onto their team, and the captive must join that circle.

The value in this activity is that when presented with the challenge, participants will study up on each other’s names.  Give teams a few minutes at the start to review the other team’s names together.


Peek a Who

Another favorite, often called “Peek a Who” (Rohnke, 1991), is similar to name roulette but adds the intrigue of hiding behind a blanket.  I’ve used this activity primarily with elementary students, but I’m finding that both adults and adolescents also enjoy the playful, hiding aspect.

Facilitation Suggestions:

•  Have two facilitators or group members hold up a large blanket.

•  Divide the group into two teams and have them stand on opposite sides of the blanket, hidden from the view of the other team.

•  Each team then chooses one person to move up close to the blanket.

•  On the count of three, the blanket drops and the two participants race to name each other.

•  The winner captures that person onto their team.

I often use a variation of this game with groups that either know each other or have been learning about each other.  The following version practices compliments and celebrating individual strengths.

•  In this version, the two players behind the blanket sit back to back.

•  When the blanket is dropped, their teammates describe the person from the other team to their teammate, who tries to guess who is behind them.

•  Encourage participants to use positive, non-physical characteristics about the person they are describing (i.e., “she is very creative,” “he is good in math,” “she climbed Mt. Washington last week,” “she was the leader of the last group challenge”).

Stanchfield, J. (2007). Tips & Tools for the Art of Experiential Group Facilitation. Bethany, OK: Wood ‘N’ Barnes Publishing.

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