“Jimmy… I mean Johnny… I mean Jason get over here.” Did you ever hear a similar sentence from a parent, grandparent or teacher as she ran down a list of all your siblings’ names before getting to yours?
Everyone has a name, even if parents cannot remember them at times, and what better place to start your ESL class than with some fun activities that use their names?
N: Fun ESL Activities You Can Do with a Name
Acrostics are a fun place to start when doing a lesson using names. Before introducing what an acrostic is, write your name vertically on the white board. Then challenge your students to think of an adjective which describes you that starts with each of the letters you have written. For example, for the name Sue you might say sweet, understanding and energetic. Once your class has completed the acrostic, write another name on the board and repeat the activity. You can also use short phrases in the acrostic instead of single words to describe a person if you or your class is struggling with a particular letter. This activity is also a good time to put the English dictionary to use by checking for entries that begin with a specific letter. Round out the activity by having your students write acrostics of their own full names, and then post them in your classroom to give students a chance to get to know each other a little better. You may also want to have your students write acrostics for other names, perhaps for a pet or family member or for a famous person or celebrity.
Origin of names
Many people have a story of how they got their name. For some, the name has been handed down through generations in the family. For others, children are named after a family friend or important person in the parents’ lives. For some, their names are chosen because of the meaning behind the name or the hopes the parents have for their child. Discussing names is a natural place to get in some conversation practice as your students share their stories and ask questions of their classmates. In groups, have your students discuss how their parents chose their name and the story behind it. If your students do not know the story of their name, have them discuss what names they have either given pets or want to give to their future children. Students should explain why they chose a particular name and what their hopes were for the recipient of that name. You can also use this opportunity to discuss the English names your students may have chosen to use. Ask them how they came about using these names and what their thoughts were behind the selection. Just make sure that none of your students feels criticized about his choice of a name for either himself or someone else. Each student should be able to share about at least one type of name, and some may be able to share about several. Encourage your students to practice their speaking as much as they can, and give groups enough time so that everyone has a chance to share.
Not all activities about names have to be serious. This game combines general knowledge with speaking practice, particularly practice asking and answering questions. Prepare for the game before class by writing names of well-known people on slips of paper. Make sure your students will know who these people are. To start the game, tape one of the names to each person in your class. After everyone has a name, your students are free to move about the classroom asking yes/no questions of their classmates to try to figure out who they are supposed to be. Once a student has determined his or her correct identity, he can sit down. Continue until the whole class is sitting. You can tailor this game to the goals of your class. You can play a serious game by giving historical names to your students, or you can play a lighthearted game by giving very unlikely names to unlikely students (for example, placing the name Lady Gaga on a male student’s back). Either way, your class will be actively participating and practicing their language skills as they play the game.
A Rose by Any Other Name
Perhaps one of the most famous quotes about names is Shakespeare’s “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” spoken by Romeo. Give this quotation to your students and ask if they agree. Then have a class discussion about the following topic: does your name determine your character, or does your name have no influence on the person that you become. Students are sure to have varying opinions on the idea of a name determining who you are. Encourage open communication among your students, and ask each one to explain his thoughts behind his answer. Then have your students spend some time writing a paragraph that either agrees or disagrees with Shakespeare’s statement. Make sure they give examples or evidence to support their opinions.
Everyone has a name, and some people have more than one. Use these activities about names to help your students get to know each other and themselves a little more and practice their English in the process.
Do you know any great activities around names? Or maybe some tricks to remember each student’s name in the first 5 minutes of the first back-to-school class? Please share them below!