The first words children learn to recognise, read and spell are usually their own names. It’s not surprising, these words hold significant meaning and power for them. Why not harness that energy to teach the skills that are basic to literacy development?
Even before they begin formal schooling, children are able to read and spell their own names; and possibly the names of significant others in their lives, including parents, siblings, other close relatives and friends. When we write their names on pictures they’ve drawn, inside the covers of books they own, on letters and envelopes written to them, as well as on their belongings, they come to understand “that word means me”.
However, not all children are exposed to the same opportunities for learning prior to beginning school. It is important that we make connections with the children and help them learn in ways that are both fun and meaningful.
In this post I suggest some strategies that can be implemented in the first three years of school, starting from the very first day when children can write their names to demonstrate their knowledge of letters and sounds and fine motor coordination. Throughout the early years, children’s names can be used as a starting point in teaching phonics, initial sounds and syllabification.
The ideas suggested in this post are presented in more detail in a new resource uploaded this week:
Suggestions for before, or in early days of, school
Teaching letter sound relationships
An easy way to teach young children to recite the letters of their names in sequence, is to utilise their love of music, singing and recall of lyrics. Even if sung out of key, children enjoy special songs about them and their names. Simply adjust the tune of B-I-N-G-O to the children’s names as you sing.
After just a few repetitions, they are able to join, and even sing their names independently. If you sing while writing their names, they will begin to recognise and name each letter too. This is a great activity for parents to do at home or for carers at centres before children even begin formal schooling.
Suggestions for the first days of school
Who is here?
A simple way of finding out who can recognise their name in print is to make a Who is here? chart. Laminate a large copy of each child’s name and put a small amount of reusable adhesive on the back. As children enter in the morning they find their names and place them on the chart. This is also an easy check to see who is and is not at school.
Who am I?
Getting to know each other
Calling the attendance roll is a great way of helping children get to know each other’s names. Even if you are no longer required to do the roll orally, the benefits of doing so remain. You say the child’s name. The child stands and says, “Good morning, everyone.” The class says, “Good morning, (name).”
Beginning formal phonics instruction
Words that begin like my name
When introducing children to the names of the letters and their sounds, use the names of your children whenever possible. For example, the first letter often introduced is “S”. You might have a Steven, Sam, Sarah or Sacha in your class. Explain that today is going to be; for example, Sarah’s day, and encourage children to think of as many words as they can that begin with “S”, like Sarah’s name. Write them on a chart.
Another suggestion for using the first letter and sound of a child’s name is by giving them an alliterative positive description; for example, Sensational Sarah, Terrific Trey, Brave Brandon, Likeable Liam. Children could illustrate these with a self-portrait.
Developing phonemic awareness
Words that rhyme with my name
Some of the children may have names for which you can find rhyming words. Sometimes the spelling of these names and words is regular. Sometimes it is irregular. Either way, the opportunities for teaching and learning are there.
For example (from the resource):
Investigate grapho-phonics and spelling with one-syllable names
Investigating the letter and letter combinations used to spell one-syllable names is a great way of introducing both regular and irregular spelling patterns, especially for long vowel sounds, consonant blends and digraphs. It is likely that with a class of approximately 25 students, a great number of both regular and irregular spelling patterns will be present.
You may be able to discuss:
- CVC words; for example, Pam, Ben, Tim, Tom.
- Long vowels with ‘e’ on the end: for example, Jane, Luke, Rose, Eve.
- Other spellings of long vowels, digraphs and blends; such as, Trey, Jean, Bryce, Brooke, Hugh, Sloane.
The knock-knock syllable name game
This activity could build upon the attendance activity suggested above, or could be an activity on its own. Children sit or stand in a circle. The teacher nominates who will be first, then children take turns around the circle. The game begins like a Knock Knock joke, but the class repeats the child’s name, clapping the syllables instead.
Breaking words into syllables
It is always best to start with the familiar and build on that understanding. Teaching syllabification using children’s names makes perfect sense. They are already well-practised at listening to the names and breaking them into chunks orally. Breaking them into chunks visually builds upon that foundation and is an excellent way of introducing syllabification as a tool for reading multi-syllable words.
Children will already have been introduced to vowel and consonant sounds and their visual representation through working with one-syllable names and other words. When you are working with two-syllable names and words, each syllable can be treated individually for purposes of analysis.
Words are usually broken into syllables in regular ways:
- between two middle consonants; for example, Bran/don
- before a single middle consonant; for example, Ro/bert; even when the consonant changes the vowel sound; for example, Sa/rah.
The same is true for names with three or more syllables too; such as, My/kay/la, Me/la/nie and Bar/thol/o/mew.
When looking at other words, you will find ways of breaking into syllables that don’t often occur in names; such as:
- between words in compound words; for example, house/boat
- before the consonant sound preceding le; for example, mum/ble, a/ble, ti/ckle
Of course, as with much in English, there are always exceptions to any rule.
It is important to not try to teach everything at once, but to take it in small steps, a little bit at a time, ensuring children understand and are confident before moving onto the next name or activity. A little each day is the best way.
I’m sure that once you get started using children’s names to teach important literacy skills, you will find many other ways of incorporating them into your program. I hope you have found some of these ideas useful. For greater detail and additional suggestions please check out the resource.
I have just uploaded a resource with an example of ways of incorporating a student’s name: Schuyler.
readilearn resources are more than worksheets;
they are lessons made by teachers for teachers, designed to lighten your workload.
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