It was the end of September, and my grade sixes were standing in a circle on the grass. It was a touch cooler now, the day bright and sunny, a bit of a breeze. The students knew the activity we were about to do. We had been using it over the past few weeks as one of our warm-up games before drama class.
One at a time, each student would say their own name out loud, and simultaneously create an action to go with it. And then, in an enthusiastic chorus, the rest of the circle would mirror their action back to them and repeat their name. This would continue around the circle until everyone’s name had been said.
Personalities always revealed themselves in chosen actions. Abdul said his name with impossibly cool gestures. Jin liked twirling as she said hers. Mike tended to do a short dance move or two. And without fail, the whole class would echo each classmate’s creation, a happy call-and-response comprised only of names and movement, filling the playground with unified sound.
The simplicity of this game belies its complex benefits to learning and community.
We have heard much over the years about the positive connection between movement and the brain, with benefits to mood, learning, and focus. The physical representations in this game certainly encourage movement, exploration of physical space, and rhythm. As teachers, we also know the importance of collaboration within the classroom, of creating situations such as this, where students are engaged with one another in learning tasks. And of course, in order for students to learn optimally, there must be a strong sense of community, connection, and trust in the classroom. Team-building and collaborative games like this may represent one step towards this goal. Indeed, there is something deeply satisfying in seeing all students quietly looking, not at a worksheet or iPad, but at one another. Present in the moment. Waiting for their classmate’s contribution. In our busy and increasingly digitalized world, I wonder how often we stop like this, just for a few minutes, to truly look at each other, acknowledge one another’s presence. And this leads me to perhaps the most important benefit of all for students:
Someone says their name.
There is power in hearing our names spoken aloud, that one word that represents and encapsulates all that we are. We all know that uplifting feeling when someone remembers our name and addresses us, and the slight umbrage we feel when someone forgets or mispronounces it. It is one of the first things small children learn to recognize and write because of its power to engage; children are naturally interested in their own names. It is one of the first gifts we are given by our parents, one of the first ways we are called into the world. As Dale Carnegie once said, “names are the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”
I fear some students may not have this experience as often as they should, may not often hear their names uttered by classmates … The student just learning English, who does not yet have the linguistic capital to easily forge friendships. The quiet student, struggling with anxiety or social cues. The new student, who braves a sea of unfamiliar faces every day and tries to find their place among them.
In my experience, this unassuming game — with virtually no preparation required other than finding an open space — can sometimes accomplish what no amount of labelled photos, friend books, or other “name-learning” activities can. It engages. It connects. It creates a space of knowing.
Everyone says each other’s names.
I do not suggest the above game is the only way to engage students and begin to foster connection. There are numerous, effective activities, used across multiple contexts and subject areas. I offer this activity as a springboard, to consider and share the many ways we can help students connect.
I have used this drama game with countless students over the years, from primary to junior to intermediate. And every time it is a joy to see my students call their names into the learning space, and see those names returned back as a resounding gift. In whatever way you choose to bring forth your students’ names, may your classrooms always be filled with those sweetest sounds.
*student names have been changed