Learning Names At the Start of the Year

Caltha Crowe retired in June after 35 years of teaching. Most recently, she taught third graders at King’s Highway Elementary School in Westport, Connecticut. She is a certified Responsive Classroom consulting teacher.

Answer: For the first few weeks of school, all children and adults wear name tags. During these early weeks, my students and I play name games that offer the children fun ways to memorize names, and we practice greeting each other by name.

Our heavy-duty plastic clip-on name tags—purchased inexpensively in bulk—last all year. When we stop wearing the tags every day, we keep them in a basket, ready for the student with the “hospitality” job to distribute when needed. For example, we’ll wear our tags when a new student joins us or when we have a guest teacher. Knowing everyone’s name helps newcomers feel a part of the community.

MaryAnn Bernstein teaches third graders at Fox Hill School in Burlington, Massachusetts.

Answer: For years, I’ve welcomed my incoming students by sending each a letter at the end of their second grade year, introducing myself and describing things they might look forward to doing in third grade. I include my photo so the children can picture me as they imagine the school year ahead.

But last summer I decided I wanted to picture the children in the same way, and also to learn all of their names before school started. I did this by looking through the children’s emergency cards, which include their photos. On the first day of school, I was able to greet each child by name as I stood smiling by the classroom door. I got many exuberant responses and several huge smiles. What a great way to start our first day together!

Chip Wood is principal of Sheffield Elementary School in Turners Falls, Massachusetts and author of Yardsticks: Children in the Classroom, Ages 4–14.

Answer: At our grade 3–6 school, all adults wear name tags for the first six weeks of the year. But at our first few weekly all-school meetings, the adults remove their name tags, and we offer the children a challenge: Can any student name the thirty or so adults in the auditorium—classroom teachers, paraprofessionals, the school nurse, and me?

We announce the challenge beforehand, and students from all grades sign up to give it a try. At the meeting, we draw a name with great fanfare. That child comes up to the microphone, and all the adults stand up. As the child calls their names, adults sit down. Typically, a child rattles through the first twenty names and then slows way down. Often, the ending is very suspenseful, and when a child names all thirty adults (or even comes close), the applause is thunderous.

Getting up in front of the whole school takes courage and gives contestants a sense of accomplishment. Hearing the names repeated helps all the children learn them, and the yearly challenge brings us together as a community.

Tags: Building Classroom Community

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