• Multilingual

The Power of Names

Students all over the country are returning to school and often to a new teacher and new classmates. One of the first things teachers and students will engage in is learning each other’s names. Learning people’s names is a critical aspect of the community building process: getting to know each other and building positive relationships. At the elementary level, teachers have the task of getting to know the students in their own class, as well as any groups they might teach, and even the students in their colleagues’ classes. At the secondary level, teachers may have well over 100 students in their classes, and will also need to learn the names of their students in order to address them appropriately and respectfully.

Learning Student Names = Cultural Respect + Sensitivity

As educators, we have the power to immediately validate, affirm, and honor our students by learning to pronounce their names correctly. This can be a challenge, at times. Increasingly, students come to our classrooms from around the world. They themselves may have come from another country, or their families or ancestors may come from places where a language or languages that we do not speak are spoken. Our students may have names that are unfamiliar to us, and some of their names may be challenging for us to pronounce, at first, if we are not familiar with the particular name or the linguistic patterns that appear in their names.

My Name, My Identity

The Santa Clara Office of Education has partnered with the National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE) in promoting the My Name, My Identity project. The premise is to have teachers commit to learning how to pronounce students’ names correctly. When we are unsure, we can ask (sometimes repeatedly!) that students teach us their name, and ask if we are pronouncing it correctly. Under no circumstance should we change a student’s name in the classroom, just as the students should not change our name!

Classroom Activities to Implement

There are many ways to facilitate learning each other’s names in the classroom. Through the use of various games and activities, we can help students learn their classmate’s names as we learn them, and learn something about our students as well. The following games and activities are fun, interactive, and many add in key elements of effective instruction, including some of our 7 Hip Pocket Tools!


#1 The Extended Name Tag

This strategy came to us from the University of California Irvine’s Writing Project. The strategy can be used to build relationships, which in turn encourages students to take risks in learning. Simply put, students write their name in the center of a piece of paper, and then add the answers to a series of questions on their name tag. The questions can be designed to get to know students at first, and can then evolve to build in content ideas and concepts.

Some sample questions include:

-Describe your best day ever (real or imagined).

-Favorites (games, colors, foods, activities, places, etc.)

-A person you admire

-Character traits that describe you


Here are examples of the Extended Name Tag strategy:



#2 Name Games

Name games are a fun and interactive way of supporting students in learning names. There are many name games, and GLADifying these games can make them even more fun! For example, one game has students say their name, and then an animal, food, place (city, state, country, etc.), profession, interest, character trait, or other word to their name. For example, Erick – encouraging. The next person says the name of the person before them and the word offered, then their own name. To make the game more challenging, the next person in the circle has to say all of the previous names and words. By adding in a gesture, you make the activity more interesting and build kinesthetic learning into the activity. Other additions can include adding in a beat or clap.

#3 Poetry Frames

A variety of poetry frames can also be utilized to have students share information about their names and about themselves. For example, the following poetry frame, from Effective Strategies for Integrating Social Emotional Learning in Your Classroom (Herrmann, 2022) focuses on the importance of your name. The template for this poetry frame can be downloaded here.


Another poetry frame that can be a fun way to get to know each other is the I Am poem. Similar to the I Have a Name poem, this frame allows students to share specific character traits and emotions, as well as aspects of their identity and


Create a Culturally Aware and Inclusive Classroom

Culture has always been a cornerstone of Project GLAD, and at BeGLAD we continue to advocate for bringing culture into the classroom, celebrating who our students are and where they come from. We honor what students love and celebrate their learning. These elements can begin by getting to know students’ names in fun and interactive ways that also weave in student interest and elements of culture.

Downloadable Resources

Poetry Frame: I Have a Name

Poetry Frame: I AM Poem

Written by: Erick Herrmann


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