My name is Deirdre (pronounced Dear-druh).  Not Dee-drah or Dear-dray or Dee-ay-druh.

My name is unusual and the spelling doesn’t always help., so people often mispronounce my name. Generally, it doesn’t bother me.  However, when someone pronounces my name correctly, especially on the first try, I always give them props. It never fails to make me smile.  Even if I am just ordering fast food, and the cashier asks me to pronounce my name again.

When they give the correct spelling, I feel touched that this person makes the effort.  In an article in the Washington Post about the power of using names when talking to people I read this apparently famous quote from Dale Carnegie: “A person’s name is to him or her the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”  Amen, Mr. Carnegie.  Can I call you Dale?

This is an important idea to convey to our students. The beginning of the year is a wonderful time to get students into the habit of using the names of their classmates in conversation.  One fun way to do this and build community is a game that one of my students dubbed “Name Ball.”  The object of the game is to have each student roll the name ball, and receive the ball as smoothly as possible.  Eventually it can become a team challenge where the students try to beat their own time for making it around the whole circle.

In a circle, the students sit criss-cross with their hands open in front of them ready to receive a rolled name ball.  The order of play goes like this:

1. The first roller (for demo purposes it would be the teacher) chooses someone across the circle and makes eye contact.  For our purposes, let’s say that person is Maria.

2. The roller says, “Here you go, Maria” and proceeds to roll the name ball (not throw or bounce) across the circle to Maria.

3. The receiver, Maria, says, “Thank you, Ms. Moore.”

4. The receiver now becomes the roller, makes eye contact with someone across the circle and says, “Here you go, Joshua” and proceeds to roll the ball to Joshua.

5. When Joshua receives the name ball he says, “Thank you, Maria.”  Maria then rests her hands in her lap to indicate that she has already received and rolled the ball.

6. Play continues until the last person has rolled the ball to the first roller which in this case is the teacher.

After the first round, I have students pair share what strategies we used to help the activity run smoothly. Then, we review those strategies together as a whole class. Here, we talk about why we use people’s names.  Understanding why we say the receiver’s name before we roll the ball is easy; it alerts the receiver to be ready to catch the ball.  What requires a little more discussion is why we should use the name when we say, “Thank you.”  Then, we do the activity again in the same exact order (I always review the order first because someone always forgets!) being mindful of using those strategies.

If the group is ready, I time them to get a baseline time and we repeat the activity trying to beat our own time sharing ideas of strategies we can use to shave off some time.  This tends to be where the kids start to get really invested in the activity.  The value of silence and listening to one another becomes very apparent as students try to beat their own time and that is a great lesson to learn at the start of the year!

What Happens Next,

At this point, you can have the students roll the ball without speaking. This can let you see how focused and connected they are to one another using only eye contact.  Another fun level is to have them reverse the order, having the last receiver begin the rolling by sending it back to the person who rolled to them and try to beat the class time on each subsequent round.

Using “Name Ball” as a springboard, you can now encourage your students to use partner’s names when they partner talk or refer to one another by name in small group and whole group discussions.  The world can be a very isolating and lonely place for some people.  Having students understand the importance of using one another’s names can help make those students who tend to shy away from the spotlight or blend into the background feel they are a valued member of their learning community in a safe supportive way.