Why is learning names important?
When you have a new class of Young Learners or kindergarten, one of the most important tasks is to settle the children and get to know them. This includes learning the name of every child, including the correct pronunciation and spelling. I cannot emphasise this enough, because names are part of our identity. It’s an introduction into who we are, so it should be one of the very first things that you do.
Learning the names of your Young Learners/kindergarten children sends a message that you are interested in them and that they are important.
It also demonstrates that the class is inclusive and that all the children are equally important. Learning the names of the more confident children may come easier, but it is important that the less confident ones feel included.
Feeling Settled = Ready to Learn
Equally important as the teacher learning names is that the children know each other’s names too! It is of course part of the process of making friends, but also contributes to a positive group atmosphere in the classroom. This in turn helps children feel settled quicker.
And why is it important for young learners to feel settled?
Teaching Young Learners English is not only about focusing on language; it needs a holistic approach, developing the whole child. Supporting the personal, social and emotional development is part of this holistic approach. A young child who is settled is a child who is ready to learn. So by learning the children’s names, you are helping them to feel settled, and therefore getting them ready to learn.
Is the name of the teacher important?
Learning names works both ways. Not only is it important for you as the teacher to learn and remember the children’s names, it is equally important for them to learn and use yours.
In addition, if these young learners know your name, it’s easier for them to gain your attention should they need to.
Therefore, ensure the children hear you say your name often (in particular to begin with) and gesture to yourself when you say it. Use “My name is…” before your name and your Young Learners will be hearing and assimilating a useful phrase at the same time.
Here’s another idea to help support remembering your name: Cup one hand around the back of one ear after you say your name, gesture to yourself and, looking at the children, say “What’s my name?” and invite them to say it a few times. If nobody responds, have a big smile and repeat it yourself. In a very short space of time, one or two children will remember and say it, and then the other children will start to join in too.
How can I remember the names of Young Learners / Kindergarten children?
Now that we know why learning names is important, both for you as the teacher and for the children themselves, here are 5 ideas to support you in learning the names of the children in your class, and for them to learn your name too.
1. Invite the children to make name badges, supporting as necessary. In a Young Learner class, it’s unlikely that many of the children will be able to write their name, so it’s crucial to support as necessary. Simply write the name (if they are unable to write it themselves) and invite the children to decorate around it. This is also a good home/school link activity, because the children will go home wearing their badges.
2. Similarly, you can make (or even better, invite the children to make/decorate) large name cards, using letter templates if you have them. Spread these out and then ask the children to find their name and place it on a wall (or somewhere visible for all to see as they enter the classroom). This will help the children feel they belong and reinforce name recognition.
When making name badges and cards, remember that the important thing is the creative process, not the end result. Whatever they produce, celebrate and praise it – never worry about what it looks like. Of course it’s important to be able to recognise the child’s name, but simply support if and when needed by scribing.
3. Write all the children’s names on the board or a large piece of paper, where everyone can see them. Then invite the children to go and point to their name as you say it. Remember to support as necessary, as children might not recognise their name at this age.
4. Invite the children to bring in a photo of themselves (or take one with a phone). Display them on the wall at child height. Seeing their photos will help the children feel a sense of belonging. You can then add the children’s names below the photos, or they can do this themselves.
Always ensure you have written permission from the parents (or from the parents via the school) to take and use any photographs of the children in your lessons.
5. Make a circle with the children and throw a ball to them, As each child catches the ball, invite them to say their name out loud. Or, pass the ball around the circle. When you say “stop” the child holding the ball says his/her name out loud. As their confidence grows, encourage the children to say, ‘My name is…’ followed by their name.
How can I remember unfamiliar or difficult to pronounce names?
If you find some names unfamiliar to you and are not sure about how to pronounce or spell them, simply ask the parents or the school. Parents really appreciate this and it also contributes to building a strong foundation for a positive home/school relationship, which is crucial too.
Also, write the name down phonetically as you hear it said, to ensure that you can remember the correct pronunciation. Of course, it’s still very important to ensure you spell the name correctly on anything the children produce/take home from the class.
When you show an interest in your Young Learners / Kindergarten children as individuals, which includes learning their names, they will quickly warm to you – think about how it feels when someone immediately remembers your name or remembers it at a later date/time.
So take an initial period of time and make a big effort to learn the names of all the children in your class. Make learning names fun using some of the ideas above, and very soon you will see the rewards of this initial effort you put in!