How to Learn Children’s Names in September

It’s that time of year again, when teachers are thinking about their new classes, hoping they won’t have too many with the same name, and wondering how they will ever learn all the names if they aren’t all the same.

Seasoned teachers know that there’s nothing really to worry about and that they will learn everyone’s name this year – just as they do every year. NQTs and those about to embark on teacher training courses might be feeling a little more daunted. This is how I do it:

I tell a story along the lines of The Enormous Turnip but about a person who got their hat stuck on their head because it was too small – and I take a flamboyant hat along to use as a prop. I’m a languages teacher, so I do this in French, but it will work in English too.

I call out the children one by one, and each time I retell the story I repeat the names of all the children in the line as well as those who are still watching. Eg: Jack B, Chloe, Izzy, Jade S and Jack C pulled and pulled and pulled, but the hat was still stuck. Dale, Hassan, Jack H, Jade  W, Millie, Ahmina etc were all laughing at them, so they called Hassan up to help.

Everyone joins in with the story, so even those sitting down waiting their turn to join in are repeating the words to the story and calling out the names (useful if you have a blank as there are 29 other children saying each other’s names!).

It’s quite time-consuming – you need to set aside a good 15-20 minutes – but by the time you have called the last person up , the hat has come off and everyone has pretended to fall over, you’ve repeated everyone’s name so many times that you know you’ll never ever forget them!

For me, it’s worth investing the time because I usually teach several classes in several schools so by the end of the first week I need to have learnt well over 300 names!  If you want to give it a go, bear in mind that it needs a lot of space so you will either need to clear all the tables away or better still book the hall! It’s a good opportunity to reinforce behaviour too, with plenty of praise for the children sensibly waiting their turn.

If you don’t have the time or the space to spare, or you don’t like the sound of this, I’ve also found a couple of other blog posts with some different ideas for you to try: https://jamesstubbs.wordpress.com/2013/09/07/learning-names/  and  http://teacherpop.org/2016/07/6-surefire-ways-remember-students-names/

If you have any other ideas for how to remember names, please do share them in the comments.

MFL Spelling Game

French wordsThis week I made up a game for my children to practice the alphabet. I put lots of individual letters into a bag, and they had to take it in turns to draw a letter out and say its name. If they pronounced it correctly, they kept it; if not, it went back into the bag. The first person to spell a word with the letters they had in front of them was the winner.

I have several sets of scrabble tiles, so I used those, but to save money and time, the children could always write out the letters themselves and put them into a pot in the middle of the table.

My original idea was just to get them to practise the letters, as I’d noticed that although they were really good at chanting the alphabet, they were quite slow at naming the letters when spelling words.

However, the game ending up going beyond this. For starters, it really made them think about all the words they had learnt so far and how to spell them, so it turned into a good vocabulary revision game. They also practiced more than just the letters they pulled out, because they got so into the game that I overheard, “I really hope I get ‘erre’ , “I just need an ‘ixe’, “Please don’t be another ‘té’ etc.

The way I played it was that as soon as a child had made a word, the game stopped, the letters went back into the bag and we started again. The first few winners were ‘et’ and ‘as’ so then we added a rule that the word had to be at least three letters.

However, the game could be easily be adapted for older learners by either giving them a time limit to see who could make the most / longest words, or by giving each letter a Scrabble-type value and allow them to draw a certain number or letters to see who could make the highest-scoring word. Or to add an element of strategy, and to encourage older pupils to make longer words, you could add a rule that once someone has made a word, the other players can draw out one more letter to see if they can make a better one.

Related post: Learning to spell in French

Teach Like You Mean It!

I often see Facebook posts from trainee teachers and NQTs asking how to make particular subjects “exciting”, or looking for a hook to draw them in.

While I agree it’s important that children enjoy learning, I also think it’s important to remember that being exciting is not necessarily the same as being engaging. As the teacher in the classroom, we are the main ingredient in engaging the children and we are more than just the sum of the activities we choose.

I always remember one particular lesson I taught as a trainee teacher. It was Y9 French, and the topic was boring. I racked my brains trying to think of a way to spice it up, to make it more exciting. I couldn’t come up with anything and nor could my mentor. This was before Facebook was as big as it is now, so I couldn’t ask around in any of the teaching groups to get advice from hundreds of teachers around the country. I knew I was doomed. If I thought this topic was boring, there was no way I was going to convince 30 Year 9s otherwise and I was dreading the lesson. The closer it got, the more I was dreading it.

Eventually the time of the lesson arrived. With a sinking feeling in my heart I walked to the door to greet my class. Plastering a smile on my face, I uttered my first words: “Come in. Settle down quickly. I can’t wait to get started – I’ve been looking forward to today’s lesson all week.”

The change in the class was immediately visible. They picked up their heads, slumped shoulders perked up and they sat ready to listen to see what was going to be so good about this lesson. It actually turned into one of the best lessons I taught during my training year. The pupils were engaged. They worked hard and asked pertinent questions. They learnt something new and because they were so willing to commit to the learning process, we also cleared up a couple of misconceptions they already had. My mentor was delighted and I got a really good grading for that lesson. It was then I realised that it was my attitude that made all the difference.

Many years later I was given the topic of electricity to teach in science to year four. It was a topic I’d never taught before, and it was one I’d never really enjoyed learning about at school, so I really wasn’t looking forward to it. So I did what I always do in such situations. I smiled brightly and told them how much fun we were going to have learning about electricity. This became one of my (and their) favourite subjects that year. The children worked so hard and enjoyed it so much that we finished everything on the curriculum ahead of time. We were then able to explore other areas which they chose themselves: how electricity is generated and how it travels from the power station to people’s homes, how a battery works, how the ISS gets its power, and even how a Faraday cage works.

I didn’t have a snazzy title for the topic. I didn’t have a great “hook”. I didn’t even have lots of expensive and exciting resources. What I did have was the ability to fake it until it became true. My advice now to NQTs and trainee teachers is, “Don’t stress about hooks and titles and worrying about whether or not they will find it exciting. Instead, just tell them how much fun it’s going to be – and then teach like you really mean it!

Learning to spell in French

We’ve been working really hard on spellings in French this year. It’s the first year of French and we have been looking at pets. For the topic we learnt eight words for animals, and I challenged them to learn how to spell the words by working together to come up with some strategies.

I was hoping the highers would remember some of them and the lowers would remember one or two. In fact the whole class managed to learn and remember how to spell all 8 words. They employed a range of techniques ranging from using phonics, to word association to full-blown storytelling.

Hamster of course was easy – it’s the same as English. Chien they remembered by saying it in an English way – chi en. For poisson rouge they pictured a poisonous red fish, and for Chat they thought of a chatty cat. Lapin involved a story of a rabbit running laps around a field and winning a pin for finishing first. And then they got really creative…

Oiseau is “oh – I see you” and since Tortue looks like torture they had a story about a tortoise being tortured by having his second “r” taken away. But my absolute favourite was Yoda’s bitter pet mouse: hmmm the mouse sour is!

I’d love to hear about any techniques your class have come up with for learning their spellings so feel free to add a comment in the box below.