The Name Game

The Name Game is a collaborative learning exercise which accomplishes a variety of important things:

It makes you learn your students’ names quickly and it makes your students learn each other’s names quickly.

It creates a sense of fun and involvement in the early weeks of class.

It demonstrates that collaboration has advantages over working in isolation.

Lots of teachers play a variant of the Name Game, but my version is based on what I call “the group mind” technique. I tell the students that we have three weeks (or three classes or whatever) to learn each other’s names and that we are all responsible for insuring that everyone does it. I explain that cultures all over the world have developed strategies for insuring the social distribution of knowledge, such that if one person is lost, the knowledge is retained somewhere else in the group (you can skip this step if you teach, say, engineering and don’t want to talk about stuff like culture). I encourage them to help each other in the learning process.

Start by having seven to ten students introduce themselves and then ask an individual in the group to name other individual: “Luke, which one of these people is Rick?” “Rick, point to Susan.” “Susan, what is the name of the person sitting next to Jane?”

If Susan doesn’t know the name of the person next to Jane, I’ll say, “Ask Jane” or “Ask Luke!” In doing it this way, I can keep everyone on his or her tiptoes, because anyone might be made responsible for an answer at any time — and everyone knows that someone nearby can be counted on for help. No one is made to feel stupid, because the entire group helps out.

At the beginning (and sometimes at the end) of each class in the designated period, we play The Name Game: “Susan, is Jane here today?” “Bob, what is the name of that woman coming in the door?” “Kathy, point to two people named Mike.”

This is also a nice technique to interject into the middle of a long class, just to shake up people’s minds and get their attention revved up.

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