Did you know there’s one word that all of your students crave hearing? This one word is so powerful that it has the ability to make students feel more engaged and connected to you, their teacher. These are two areas we need to focus on in our teaching. Without those two factors, nothing else we do matters. What is this one word? Their name! A student’s name is so powerful in helping them be engaged and connected.
“A person’s name is to him or her the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” – Dale Carnegie
What’s in a name?
Names help us feel valued and important. One business article in the Washington Post says names are so important because they are the greatest connection to a person’s identity and individuality. Some people might say that is the most important word in the world to that person.
I haven’t always enjoyed my name. When I was in school, I got made fun of a lot for a lot of reasons. I was tall, lanky, and had thick glasses. Plus, my name rhymed with a popular, if sort of yucky, lunch meat. Now though, I’ve come to appreciate my name. It’s important to me. It’s been with me through everything I’ve been through.
When someone uses my name, hearing it makes me feel important and connected to that person. It makes me valued. Now, imagine how our egocentric primary students feel when they hear their name. Our students are realizing that the world doesn’t revolve around them. More than ever, they need to feel nurtured, loved, and valued. Kids love their names.
My daughter, Raegan, writes her name on any scrap of paper she can find. To her, it’s her identity. Teacher, you may be one of the only positive influences in your students’ lives. They want to hear you say their names.
Students Really Notice
Since I’ve been teaching virtually, I’ve learned how important this is, and a parent taught me. At the end of teaching one day, a parent dropped in and let me know her little boy was disappointed because he wasn’t addressed during a live session. I hadn’t called on him or said his name.
It may have been a glitch in Google Classroom, because it doesn’t always show all the kids on screen like it’s supposed to. But from that mistake, I realized how important it is to say each child’s name every single day.
I never would have realized it, but it meant enough to that child that he let his mom know he wasn’t called on that day. I don’t blame him for being upset. There have been plenty of meetings and professional development trainings where I wasn’t called on and didn’t engage with the speaker. I didn’t feel a valued part of the meeting.
So I got it. Since then, I’ve been making an effort to use student names. It’s easy to do and takes very little time, but it helps each student feel like a valued part of your learning community. This is worth your time.
Here are five tips to help you use students’ names, and this goes beyond the beginning of the year games and activities we use to learn students’ names.
Tip #1: Morning Routine
I set time apart during Morning Meeting. This shouldn’t be boring, so I try to make it quick and fun. “There’s my man, Johnny. There is my girl, Aubrey. How are you? Isaiah, buddy, thank you for being here.” If anyone comes on late, I try to greet them as well. (Don’t forget you can always listen to the podcast version HERE if you want to hear the examples.)
Adding silliness is also an engagement technique. I use the Voice Choice board (free in my SIGHT WORD ENGAGEMENT GUIDE). It’s just a visual of different voices you can use. You might greet everyone in your baby voice or cowboy voice.
Tip #2: Repeat Yourself
Repeating things never hurts. When someone says our name over and over in conversation, we’re more likely to trust that person and feel that they truly value us. When you call on a student to help with a problem or in discussion, say their name multiple times.
“Okay, Presley! Presley, can you come on and share your knowledge about this one? I really appreciate your help, Presley.” Then after she answers I can repeat her name again. “Wow, Presley, what a great answer. I know next time I need help, I am going to call on Presley again.”
That may sound a little silly, and you may be thinking that’s just too much. It’s really not, though. Think about how valuable our names are to us. Using a student’s name more than once helps make them feel that much more connected.
Tip #3 Ninja Name Call
This is also a classroom management strategy. Now, I love ninjas. Ninjas are very quiet and hard-working, and they’re so stealthy. Let’s say we’re supposed to be working quietly and really focusing. I recognize kids on screen, or in person, who are doing what they’re supposed to be doing. I start calling out ninja names.
“Aw, look at Ninja Noah. He’s working hard. Look at Ninja Kinsley. She is working that pencil down hard. Way to go Kinsley.”
For some reason, it’s engrained in kids that they want to be ninjas. When you take a few seconds to call out some ninjas, it’s a great way to get the benefits of using names, plus the positive reinforcement makes other kids want to do what the ninjas are doing. I use this tactic every day so that kids may hear their names a couple more times.
Tip #4 Student Shoutout
This trick is one I recently started, because I have a lot of students who don’t attend live. They have to come back and watch the recordings. I realized those poor kids never feel connected, because they never hear their names.
So at the very beginning of my lesson, I have a slide that says “Student Shoutout.” I put two to three names on it, you could do more, and I take a minute to say wonderful things about those names.
“This first shoutout goes to my man, Noah. Noah is a super awesome kid. He’s working so hard. I see all of Noah’s work he’s submitting. He’s got really neat handwriting. Noah is just an awesome kid. So shoutout first to Noah.”
This takes about one minute every day, and it’s a great way to lift kids up and use their names during my teaching.
Tip #5 Use Names In Cheers
You may know I love classroom cheers. They’re fun, but I see the value they have to my kids. When you use cheers, be sure to pull in names.
Let’s use the example of Presley, who just helped us solve a problem or answer a question. Now it’s time to give Presley a cheer. “Presley, that was incredible! Boys and girls, let’s give Presley a big, loud, cowboy cheer! Are you ready? One, two, three! Yee-haw, Cowgirl Presley. That was for you, Presley!”
You can see, as many times as I’ve repeated Presley’s name, she is probably feeling like a million bucks.
Don’t forgot that Dr. Jean and I have created a set of 54 cheer cards you can grab HERE.
My last piece of advice is to not stress about this. We have a lot to worry about. Just notice, now that you’re more conscious of names, how easy it is to incorporate them and help your students feel engaged and connected. Don’t be afraid to sound silly and repetitive. Kids don’t care! They love hearing their name, and you will love how engaged and connected they are to you.
Teacher friend, do you have ideas of other ways to incorporate students’ names? We’d love to learn from you over in the Primary Teacher Friends Facebook group! Come on over and share your valuable insights.
Let’s make an effort to use students’ names more often in the next few weeks before Christmas break. Keep making a difference, teacher friend!