Friday, July 24, 2015

Start of School Name Chart Building Is Great Learning

Sad but true!
Whoa! Can we just slow summer down a bit? This stunning poster was in the window of Wild Birds Unlimited, a delightful store with everything for bird lovers. It made me pause for both the image and the sentiment.

With only one more week left in July my mind drifts more and more to school. There are a couple start-of-school activities that I find SO important. I post one of them today.

Making our class name chart is something I look forward to each year. It is so important for children to see their names around the room so they feel part of the group. Children's names are a high interest hook to learning, too, so this activity is very popular with the incoming kiddos. Classroom name charts can look many different ways, and how ours looks contributes to the learning, but it is how we get there that is important.

Over the years I've been able to tweak our routine so it is learning packed, yet quick paced with active participation. We learn classmates' names, and practice letter sounds, syllables, capitalization, and ABC order– how many standards does that meet?? Whew! Perhaps best of all, it gives each child a turn to shine and be the leader. The resulting name chart with it's shared ownership is happily used all year long.

The name chart we build together lives on our word wall all year.

1. What you'll need: I begin on the first day of school, and doing two names per day, we complete the chart in under three weeks. It's important to have the materials ready to go before the kids come through the door. You'll need:
• a cup or small pail from the dollar store
• lowercase magnetic letters
• a large, standard size piece of poster board
• each student's name printed out so it fits horizontally on a colored sheet of paper, two to a page. I do this on the computer using one of the typefaces that best represent kid printing– good old Comic Sans works just fine. Cut the two names on the page apart and put all the names in a large size business envelope.
• a restickable glue stick- this is very important! If you don't know about this stuff, you need to check it out. It turns any piece of paper into a sticky note. You can find it at your favorite office supply store or by clicking on the pic. You'll find all sorts of use for it. And in this routine it adds to the magic *wink*

2. Set up: I give extra thought to choosing the first group of students who will do the activity. I watch to see who my early readers are and who can write their name– they usually become apparent in the first hours of kindergarten. If you assess your kids before they come to kindergarten, you'll know that way, too. I also take personality into account– shy kiddos are more comfortable after they've seen the routine a few times, so they go later in the process.

I put those kids' names at the front of the stack in the envelope. I also pull the magnetic letters needed for those first names and put them in the cup– this saves time when I do the activity with each child. I put the empty poster board on the white board where it will stay for a couple weeks.

3. The routine: As the kids come to the carpet I put the magnet letters for the first student's name on the white board out of order. I begin the activity by pointing out the group of letters, saying each one as I point.

Then I ask if anyone in our class is named "Mada" or whatever nonsensical word the letters make up which never fails to get a chuckle from the kids. Then I ask if anybody sees letters that are in their name. Many kindergartners will raise their hand and I acknowledge as each one says a letter in their name, usually their first letter, and I point to it.

Then I ask if anyone sees all the letters in their name. I call on the correct student and say we'll check to see if they are all on the board. I ask them to put the letters in the right order. Usually this is easier than just spelling their name orally. I then ask them to spell their name for me as I point to each letter. I have them stand close in front of me so I can whisper in their ear if they need help with any of this, but most can do it just fine all by themselves.

Once the name is in order I say it's time for the name cheer. I have the student point to each letter in turn and say, "Give me an A." The class pumps the air and says, "A." Then "Give me a D" etc. After all the letters have been said in this call and response way, I prompt the student to ask the class, "What's that spell?"  The class answers with the name and one last fist pump. It's a fun ten seconds of excitement.

Then I say, "Whisper it" and the class whispers the name... you understand why we need to whisper next.

Then "Count it" and we count the letters.

Then, "Clap it" and we say and clap for each beat.

Then I say, "Count the beats."  The first few times I explain what a syllable is and we figure out how many are in the name, counting as we clap.

4. Making the chart:  I have the student sit down again and pull out the student's name from the envelope where it is ready on top of the pile, and quickly cut around the name, following the shape that the letters in the name make.  I hold it up and point out that some letters are tall and some are small, and some have tails.

*News Flash* Since writing this post and thinking about the name chart yet again, I've decided this year I'm going to draw a line under the name on the paper at this point in the process right in front of the kiddos. That way the students will get a better sense of tail letters. I get as many ideas from my own blog as I share sometimes :)

Then I hold it above the magnetic letters on the board and compare these written letters with the magnetic ones. I point out that the letters are in the same order because that is how we spell "Adam" every time we write it, otherwise it doesn't say "Adam." I also point out that all the magnetic letters are lower case, but when we write a name, we always use a capital letter, like the name printed on the paper.

The last step is to use my "magic glue stick" and swipe across the back of the name and place it on the poster board.  All the kids want to know why the glue stick is magic, but I say I can't tell them yet. Keep them wondering and thinking.

5. Finishing the chart: I do two students each day, morning and afternoon. I used to do just one student per day, but it spread out over too many weeks. When I get to about the fourth day and we have six names already up on the poster board, I point out that it's getting sort of messy and I want to be able to find names fast on the chart, instead of having to hunt for them. I explain there's a way to make words easier to find, called abc or alphabetical order. Using our alpha bet chart as reference, I look for an A name, then B name, etc, and move them around until the names are in order. We even learn how to alphabetize names that begin with the same letters. I keep a mind to where each name will probably end up on the finished chart, based on my class list, so names don't have to be moved everyday. (All the kids are surprised when I move the names around the first time because they were glued down! I tell them that is the "magic" part of the glue stick... a small bit of magic, but magic none the less.)

Every other day or so I choose who the next four or five kids will be and bring their names to the top of the stack in the envelope. Then I empty the cup of letters and pull new letters for these next names, making sure all the letters I'll need for each are in the cup.

Once all student names are on the chart I do a little behind the scenes work one day after school. I move the names to their final spot on the chart, clustering them by first letter. I take a fat marker and draw a square around each cluster of names. I add a title to the top of the chart and laminate the whole thing. The laminate keeps the names with their non-permanent glue from coming off, and gives a nice finished look to our student made chart.

We love our finished name chart and the lessons that stick with it.

The next day we have a good discussion about why the names are now in squares and I get to reinforce one more time all the concepts we worked on while building the chart. We place the chart in an area of our word wall where we use it all year.

*Second News Flash* I tweaked my chart again! Where it says "Our Class" I now write "Mrs Wright and the Kidpeople" and you could write your name and "the kindergartners", or whatever name your class has. The important part is that my name is written on the chart, too. The first year I added my name I wrote "Mrs. Wright's Kidpeople." That didn't work as well because of the apostrophe S. It is also handy to have "Kidpeople" up there because they write about themselves all year, too.

I am always pleased at how much "sticking power" these fast and easy daily lessons have. This differentiated group activity teaches on many levels– whether a child's next step in learning is letter names, or alphabetical order, or capitalization, or more, there is a full range of learning opportunity here. Going through the routine twice a day, learning about our friends' names, and getting a turn to be the leader makes for highly engaging good first learning in kindergarten or first grade. Even my struggling or shyest students, whose names we do later in the process, can do the activity with minimal help once they see it done by the students who went before. They all love it. I hope you do, too.

Thanks to Irene Fountas, Gay Su Pinnell, Pat Cunningham, and the miriad of teachers who have added ideas to the routine.

I'll be writing about more activities and routines for the start of school. Look for this icon in upcoming posts and search by the label "Start of School."

Thanks for stopping by and see you next time!


  1. Wow! I need to look for that glue. I've seen 2-way glue that is repositionable AFTER it dries. You are saying this is immediately repositionable though?

    My Bright Blue House

    1. Yep. You can move it soon or even days afterward... though I wouldn't go longer than three or four days because it can start to stick like regular glue stick. It is good for this activity and you'll find dozens more uses for it. Thanks for stopping by. Kathleen


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