One of the most challenging parts of “back to school” is matching students’ faces to their names. Teachers get a list of names to which they must quickly attach faces once the students arrive back to school. Students, on the other hand float through the first days of school in a sea of faces to which they must learn to attach names. The activity I’m sharing with you today will assist both teachers and students in getting to know each other quickly.
According to a research study published last year in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, people do tend to “look” like what they’ve been named. It sounds crazy, even borderline stereotyping, but the study found that people are usually pretty good at matching names to faces. The trick, though, is having the correct names and the correct faces to link together. This activity puts the names and faces out front for all to ponder, plus gives each student a chance to introduce him or herself by explaining their own personal connection to their name.
Back to School: Preparation is the Key
There is some preparation involved in making this activity a success. First, teachers should use a template in which they type in each student’s name (in the above example, Madison)–included in Name Meaning & Photo Back to School Activity. Next, if time allows, look up the meaning of each student’s name and type it onto the template sheet as well. There are numerous baby name websites that offer meanings of even the most obscure names. I have always had lots of luck just googling “meaning of name _______.” If you can check out a few baby name books from the library before school starts, especially for students grade 4 and higher, students can look up the meanings of their own names and the teacher won’t have to take time to type the meanings onto the students sheets ahead of time. Just be sure to clearly indicate on the student sheets where the name meaning should be copied on the sheet.
Next, you’ll want to take up-close photos of all of your students on the first day of school. Students, dressed in their “first day of school clothes” and usually don’t balk at getting their pictures taken. An overly-efficient teacher may consider delving into the pictures provided in on-line attendance programs, but try to resist doing that…those pictures were probably taken at the beginning of the previous school year and no doubt the students have grown and changed a lot in the months since then.
Since my bulletin board backings were usually up, but not filled with content yet, I usually had my students stand in front of a bulletin board (if you have them stand side by side, a few inches apart, you can photograph two students at a time…thus cutting the cost of getting the picture printed in half) to take their first day of school pictures. Consider making it easy on yourself by downloading and sending the pics to a one-hour photo (I use Walgreen’s) and just pick them up after school to use the next day. If the students have stood side by side, just cut the photos in half and have each student attach their likeness to their name sheets. Be sure you’ve planned ahead and left enough room for the photo to be attached between the name and the meaning of the name.
If you’re not going to get to do this back to school activity until after the first day of school (but still, try to do it in the first few days), you could take the first day photos and insert them into the student sheets before printing. That’s what I did on Madison’s student sheet, shown above.
The Writing Component of the Activity
Students can complete the writing part of the activity, which I will explain shortly, whether or not their photo is yet available. So, you could have them do it on the first day of school or wait until you have the photos read.
I like to begin offering students choices with their assignments even this early on with this (probably the first of the year) writing assignment about their name. I post and let them choose from the following prompts to get them started with the writing that will serve as a documented introduction of themselves to others as the school year begins:
- “The meaning of my name is perfect for me because…”
- “If I could have chosen my own name, I would have chosen _______ because…”
- “I am named after someone special (explain)…”
An additional choice might be to allow students to respond about their name in their own way, after briefly explaining it to and getting the OK from the teacher. I usually reserve this choice (I don’t write it on the board) to offer to students who are struggling with choosing from the posted prompts.
Remind students, because they have probably TOTALLY forgotten this, to do their best to write in complete sentences. Probably three or four sentences will fill the space on the sheet. Also, remind them, as my third grade teacher used to say, that “handwriting is courtesy.” Be considerate of the fact that other students will be enthusiastically reading their back to school introductions of themselves–don’t make others struggle to read your writing!
Display the Completed Introductions for All of the Class to Enjoy and Refer to
Once completed, these back to school photo introductions of each student should be displayed around the room so students may refer back to them as needed to match faces to names for at least a few days. You could even have the students complete a gallery walk and provide them with some sort of task to complete or information to keep track of as they move from station to station reviewing each others’ introductions.
If you would like to try this back to school activity, I have put together a packet of information, along with a couple of different templates for the student sheets, which you can download here: Name Meaning & Photo Back to School Activity.
When you take these down, consider binding them into a “book” and placing that book in your classroom library. It could also be a handy resource for substitute teachers or other visitors to your classroom!
And, just a reminder, if you haven’t yet signed up for my email list (to the right on desktop and below the post on mobile), please do so today! As a thank you, I’ll send you a downloadable copy of my printable, QUICK START GUIDE TO CONTENT AREA WRITING.