George Lucas Educational Foundation
Classroom Management

Different Ways to Play the Name Game

With these variations, teachers can lower the pressure of remembering names, or use new prompts for community building.

August 17, 2022
Allison Shelley for the Alliance for Excellent Education

Have you ever played a name game with your new classes? Typically everyone stands in a circle and the first person says their name, the next person says their own name and the name of the first person, and the third person says their own name, the name of the second person, and the name of the first person, and so on.

Can you imagine how the last person in the group feels? There’s so much pressure to remember everyone’s names.

Over the years, name games have been a go-to tool for me when learning the names of students. I noticed that my students and I learned names faster through name games. Now, however, I approach these games differently.

A Variation on the Name Game

To show students that they can trust me to not put them on the spot, I developed some new rules. First, I always explain what I’m going to do before doing it. This is one of the most important rules: There are no surprises. I never have the last person in the circle repeat all of the names, which would put tremendous pressure on the student. I also never make anyone do something they don’t want to do. If a student joins us in the circle but doesn’t want to say anything, that’s OK. Moving into the circle is a step. The key is to encourage, not force.

Here’s how I use name games to build community and at the same time provide an early step toward public speaking success.

  • With students forming a circle, have each say their name.
  • Next, have each student say their name and have the entire class repeat it back to them.

There’s something validating about having each student’s name repeated back by the group. This also gives everyone a chance to practice pronouncing each other’s name while not being put on the spot. If we’re saying the names out loud all together, we’re also all hearing them again, which helps everyone remember the names.

More Variations   

Here’s another version: Each person says their name and adds a response to the first phrase below. Then, after all of the students have completed this step, each says their name and responds to the second phrase, and so on. 

  • How they’re feeling
  • Their favorite movie
  • What they had for breakfast this morning
  • What they do after school
  • Their favorite subject
  • The farthest they’ve been away from home
  • Their plans for after high school/what they want to be when they grow up
  • How they feel about the coming or past weekend

Another variation is to not use any sound. Students show the response with their body’s posture or the shape they make with their body. They can act out or take on a statue pose to indicate what they do after school, what their favorite movie is, etc. This is one of my favorite ways to check in, and the students respond really well.

Later on in the year, when everyone knows each other’s name, students can respond to the above phrases without saying their name, or they can just tell (or show) everyone how they’re feeling that day.

Note: If students don’t feel comfortable doing this, don’t force them. Will they stand in a circle with us? Great. Will they do this activity in a group of two or three? Also great. If they’d feel better in a group, make sure everyone is in groups. Don’t have only this student in a group, which would draw attention to their fear or discomfort.

If you don’t know the students, you can ask them as a group or individually on a piece of paper how they feel about being in front of a room: Would they be more comfortable by themselves or in a group? You could also automatically start with groups in case anyone feels nervous, and you can find out how it went with an exit pass, or you may be able to get a feel for how it’s going just by carefully observing.

Do these exercises frequently in the beginning, one or two times at the start of the period. Make sure to repeat them for at least a few days, using different variations if you’d like. I do a lot of name games at the start of a new school year, sometimes one a day every day for at least a week, if not longer. This is also great to revisit when you have a new student join the class or if you have a guest, as it helps break the ice.

The name game format is a fun warm-up and a way to check in and get to know the students all year.

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