Nov 4

What's in a name?

classroom activity

What's in a name?

This is one of my favourite activities for classes that don't know each other very well (and it works even with classes that do!). It takes almost no preparation and I guarantee it'll have your learners engaged and talking to each other for AGES! Vocabulary development/ Oral fluency practice/ Confidence and Rapport building... what's not to like!?
Video transcript - What's in a name?

Imagine this situation. You've got a new class and you've done all of the usual ‘getting to know you’ type of activities but you still feel you'd like them to gel together a bit more. To feel a bit more comfortable with each other. Do you want a great activity to do this? Keep watching.

I'm Jo Gakonga, I've been teaching English for over 30 years, I’m a CELTA trainer and assessor and if you enjoy this, make sure to Like and Subscribe and visit my website at ELT for lots of other great ideas.

People like talking about themselves- and hearing about each other- and a great topic for discussion is people’s names.
  • How did you get your name?
  • Does it mean anything?
  • Have you got a nickname?
  • Were you called after somebody?

Write these questions up on the board and make sure that they understand ‘nickname’ and ‘to be called after somebody’. Then tell them that you're going to answer one of these questions and they have to listen to see which one it is.

Here’s a model.

My given name is Joanne. I don't have a middle name because my father hated his middle name and so he didn't want to give his children any middle names. So I’ve only got one name and the reason that I'm called Joanne is after my uncle Joe. He was actually my father's uncle, my grandfather’s brother and he was a great old man. He lived until he was in his mid 90s and although he was pretty deaf at the end he was always completely charming. He had a really interesting life and he'd got a lot of good stories so it was always nice visiting him and he was my Dad's favourite uncle which is how I ended up with the name. As I got older, I stopped being Joanne and most people just call me Jo now so I'm really happy to think that a little bit of him lives on through me, even if the spelling is a bit different..

I’ve got a whole other story about Gakonga, but I’ll save that for another time!

When you’ve given them your model to show them what to do, ask them a few questions to make sure they understood and then get them to do the same thing with a partner. You could tell them to include some of this vocabulary …

Middle name/ most people call me/ to give a child a name/ to be called after someone/ a nickname/

…and do some delayed error correction after their discussion.

I’d definitely recommend swapping partners and doing this with at least one other person. Having the chance to recycle what you said in a more correct form is a great way to practise and improve.

I hope that you and your learners enjoy this and see you next time.

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