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First Lessons: Learning Names

By Bill Pellowe

Very early in the semester is a good time to help students get to know each other and feel comfortable in the classroom. The first-lesson activity below has been used with first- and second-year university students in Japan. It is probably adaptable to your classroom as well.

Before trying this activity, determine if there's a need for it. Write this on the board:

    I know 15 or more people here.
Use a number that is about 1/2 of the students in the room. Ask students to look around the room at the others, and to raise their hands if the sentence on the board is true for them.

Keep adjusting the number until you've got a pretty good idea of where things stand. If all of the students know each others, there's no need for this activity. However, you'll probably find that students don't all know each other.

Step 1 of the activity:

What you need:

  • Squares of paper. Cut standard A4-size pieces of paper into 6 squares so you have one for every student in the class.
  • Scotch tape / cellophane tape.

What you do:

Each student writes their name on a piece of paper and sticks it to themselves, like a name badge. You may want them to write their nickname or preferred form of address (what they want people to call them, example: Mrs. Tanaka, Rie, Jun, etc.).

Get everyone standing so you've got two lines of students. They will be walking around in a narrow but tall oval. If any of your students are not mobile enough for this, they can be seated along the "route".

As they walk and pass each other, they greet the student across from them by name. "Hi ___!", "Hello ____!" It'll be noisy, since everyone is talking at the same time. They can go around 2 or 3 times.

Step 2: Game

Next, students pair off and sit down. Generally it's best to have them sit in a circle, if possible; if it's not possible, then they should sit in a way that lets them see the other students' faces. Everyone removes their name tag papers.

Each pair works together to write down the names of all the other students. Each pair can talk among themselves, but not to anyone else in the room.

After adequate time has passed, it's time to "correct" these papers. Each student gives their own name, "I'm _____", so that the others can hear her and correct their papers.

Step 3: Walking about

If you've got time, do this in the current lesson. Otherwise, it may work just as well in the next lesson.

Collect the name tag papers and then re-distribute them randomly, so that students do not have their own.

Pre-teach phrases for when you're not sure of someone's name (such as You're ____, right?) or when you've forgotten someone's name (Sorry, what was your name again?).

Students try to return the name tag paper to the right person. When a student recieves her name tag paper, she has to thank the other student by name, so perhaps she'll need those pre-taught phrases.


There's not a lot of new language being learned here. The goal is to help students get to know each other and give them some experience talking with each other in English. These activities are predicated on the assumptions that they help create a more relaxed classroom, and that more relaxed classrooms encourage student participation and risk-taking, as well as lower student apprehension, all of which help learning.