Student name activities are perfect for the first few weeks of preschool or kindergarten. Students can learn so much about letters and how words work just by working with their own name. And the learning expands as they start to learn the names of friends and classmates.
Why focus on student names?
You are naturally focused on names during the first few weeks of school. As a teacher, you need to learn the names of all the children in your class. And to build classroom community, you want your students to learn each others’ names. Since you are spending time on names, it’s easy to connect it to academics by using fun name activities.
Second, children in preschool and kindergarten are self-centered by nature. Their world revolve around themselves. Their own names are among the most important words in their world, so they are very engaged in learning when you teach with their names.
What can students learn from name activities?
It’s easy to differentiate learning when you focus on the names in the whole class. The child who is just becoming familiar with her name can learn the letters from her own name, and the child who knows most letters can begin reading a few important words (classmates’ names), or learn about capital vs. lowercase letters, or letter patterns in names. The possibilities are endless!
Names can help your students learn:
- letter names
- letter sounds (Kylie and Kasten both have the same first sound)
- variations among letter sounds (Christopher and Cissy start with the same letter, but different sounds)
- syllables (by clapping names)
- the difference between words and letters (the word Sam has 3 letters)
- first vs. last letter
- capital vs. lowercase letters
- letter patterns (Cayden and Jaysee both have -ay)
What name activities can we use?
There are many different name activities available. You might want to choose some that are easy to create and can be used repeatedly so you can save time. Here are a few ideas.
To make name puzzles, write each child’s name on a sentence strip. Cut it into pieces with one letter on each piece. I like to cut straight lines so the child is attending to the letters, not the puzzle piece shapes, to put their name together. Store the pieces in an envelope with the child’s name written neatly on the outside. The envelope helps the child check their work (and makes easy storage!)
To make the task easier, cut the name into 3-4 parts (for example, Adalynn might be Ad-al-ynn). You can break apart a set of letters once the child masters the longer chunks.
To make this more challenging, allow students to work with less familiar names by trading name puzzles with friends.
Name Matching Game:
To make the game, make a set of cards with student names, and a set of cards with student pictures. Students can play a memory game by laying the cards upside down and turning over two cards at a time, finding matches. Or students can match the names and pictures in the pocket chart.
To make the game easier, use only 4-6 names. For a child who is just learning her own name, use that child’s name 3 times and the names of 2-3 classmates. Choose names that start with different letters.
To make the game more challenging, increase the number of names and include some that start with the same letter.
To help students understand the concept of letter vs. word, you can make all kinds of graphs with their names. You can graph:
- the number of letters in each name
- the first letter (how many names start with G?)
- the last letter (how many names end with y?)
- the letters anywhere in the name (how many names have the letter A or a?)
Not only do students learn concepts about print (letter vs. word, first letter, last letter, directionality within words), but they also practice counting and are introduced to graphing.
You can incorporate this into your arrival activities or morning meeting by using a question of the day to determine how many students have a certain letter in their name. You can use this set from my store, or make your own with chart paper or the pocket chart.
ABC Name Chart:
Once students become somewhat familiar with the names in the class, you can make an ABC name chart. Include your students in the activity so they feel a sense of ownership. This will encourage them to refer to the chart later in the year. You will likely need to break this activity up over 2-3 days.
To make the name chart, use pocket chart cards to put the students’ names in alphabetical order by first letter only. You might repeatedly sing parts of the alphabet song to help the students with the task (and sneak in some great practice of this important song!) So you might put the A and B names up, then sing the song to help “remember” what letter comes next. Add any C names and repeat the song as needed.
Once the names are in order, you can transfer them to a large piece of chart paper. You might want to write the first (capital) letter in one color and the remaining letters in a different color, to highlight the use of the capital letter. This part might be done a day after the pocket chart work, and you still might break it into two days.
Alternatively, you could simply glue the pocket chart cards with names on the chart paper. Or you could have students bring your their card for the correct letter. They can hold their name in front of the class while you write. Either way, limit the work to about 10 minutes at a time, to match their short attention spans.
Consider adding small photos of each student to the chart. This will help them find their friends’ names more easily.
If you have a word wall in your classroom, student names can be the first words you add. Many teachers do a student of the day routine where they focus on one child’s name per day. As part of the routine, add that child’s name to the word wall, under the first letter of the name.
Students can refer to the word wall (and the ABC name chart) as they write friends’ names at the dramatic play center or in the writing center. Photos next to names make it easier to find the correct name.
Portraits with Names:
Kids’ name writing changes SO much in preschool and kindergarten. It is fun to capture this change in a formal way. Use these FREE first day/last day portrait pages to help with that. Students draw a self-portrait and write their name at the beginning and end of the year to show how their work has changed. You can repeat the activity at the end of the year to see how their writing and drawing has changed.
Love this idea? Try doing it monthly, as part of this yearlong memory book. It makes a great keepsake for parents. Not only does it include name/portrait samples for every month, but there are pages for drawing shapes, writing numbers and writing the alphabet. Plus, there are several writing prompts per month to capture the special memories of the school year. Use several of these pages per month to create a portfolio of the child’s learning and a lovely memory book for students.
If you use these activities to start the year, your students will be off to a great start with learning about letters and how to read the names of their friends!