Recurring Lesson

What's in a Name? Teaching Concepts of Letter and Word

Lesson Plan Type
Recurring Lesson
Estimated Time
6-12 minutes per session
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This recurring activity uses students' names to help young students come to understand the concepts of letters and words. Each day, students gather as the helper of the day is selected. The teacher reveals the first letter of the name, having students whose name start with that letter stand. More letters are revealed and students sit down as their name is ruled out. Once the helper is selected, students read the helper's name, count the letters in the name, clap the syllables, spell the name aloud, add the name to the word wall, and make observations about it. Using magnetic letters, students can create words that rhyme with the helper's name. Many additional ideas for playing with the letters of students' names are also presented here.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

Using students' names can be a powerful tool for literacy development in the early elementary classroom. In her book Joyful Learning, Bobbi Fisher gives a number of reasons for using a child's name to teach literacy skills, including drawing the class together as a community, getting children to personally engage with the text, and demonstrating grapho-phonic cues with the familiar text. Fisher also states that "if they can recognize and write their own names, they think of themselves as readers and writers." (61)

Bell and Jarvis also share wonderful results from using names and environmental print to give kindergarten students hooks for learning letters and sounds. In their article "Letting Go of 'Letter of the Week,'" they write: "I wanted the children to relate letters and words in books to letters and words they already knew; of course the most meaningful words to them were their names." (13)

Further Reading

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 9. Students develop an understanding of and respect for diversity in language use, patterns, and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, geographic regions, and social roles.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • White or black boards and writing materials

  • Journals and other writing materials

  • Magnetic letters and board

  • Materials to make class books

  • Large name cards to pull from envelope sealed and slit open on the left side so that one letter at a time can be revealed on the card

  • Name cards and pocket chart

  • Word Wall

  • Letter line of ABCs on a long line where children can line up by their letter

  • Poem and Songs put on charts

  • 2 inch oak tag squares to make name puzzles

  • Salt and pan

  • Shaving cream


Student Objectives

Students will

  • learn to write their own names.

  • identify the letters in their names.

  • count the letters in their names.

  • rhyme words with their names.

  • learn to read their own names and names of classmates.

  • learn to write the names of classmates.

  • classify names in various ways.

Instruction & Activities

  1. Choose a helper.

    • I have one child a day work as the helper. That child’s name is drawn from our envelope each day in random order. The left side of the envelope is open so I can pull out a card one letter at a time.

    • Everyone who begins with the first letter drawn stands up.

    • As I reveal another letter and another letter, children recognize that although the first letter was theirs, the later letters were not, and they sit down until only one child is standing. That person is the helper.
  2. Helper writes name on the helper chart.

    • The helper writes his/her first name on the helper chart. My helper chart is on a chalkboard.

    • I hold the child’s hand when needed to help form the letters. This process tells me if the child can write his/her name without help, form the letters properly, use correct capitalization, go left to right, etc.
  3. Helper counts the letters in his/her name.

    • After the name is complete, the child touches and counts the letters in his/her name. This tells me if they understand one-to-one correspondence with letters.

    • Then we count as a class while the helper again touches each letter.
  4. Spell the name.

    • During the first rotation of helpers, we spell the name together as the helper again touches each letter.

    • Later on, the helper spells his/her name first and the class spells it afterwards. Students start to learn letters in context.
  5. First letter of name—Word Wall.

    • The helper identifies his/her letter—the first letter of the child’s name.

    • The helper then finds his/her name card from the pocket chart and brings it over to the word wall.

    • We match the first letter of the name with the alphabet on the word wall, and pin the name card up under that letter.
  6. Clapping syllables.

    • We clap the helper's name, and note how many claps (syllables) it has.

    • We compare that number of claps with other children's names to see who has more, less, or is equal.
  7. What do you notice?

    • The helper returns to her/his name on the helper chart and tells us what he/she notices: “My first letter is an A. I have three of them in Alaina!”

    • Then the helper calls on some friends to tell us what they notice.

    • Later on, we limit this to three friends, but during the first few weeks, everyone has a chance to share what they notice.

    • As more and more children have their turns being the helper, we compare names for number of letters, first letters that are the same or different, letters in common, number of syllables, etc. Children become very wise in finding new things to notice: double letters, hidden words (am is hiding in Mrs. Hamner, and so is ham), letters in the helper’s name that are in family members' names, etc.
  8. Have the helper write his/her name with magnetic letters. Change the first letter to make a rhyming nonsense word:

    • Cassie becomes Bassie, Tassie, Wassie, Massie, Cassie! Amy becomes Tamy, Jamy, Zamy, Wamy, Amy! (Always put the name back together at the end.)

    • Read A Was Once An Apple Pie by Edward Lear to see that this kind of rhyming is even used in books.

    • Sing "Willoughby Wallaby Woo," and make a book with the poem. Have each child draw their verse with an elephant sitting on them.
  9. Other name activities you can try with your students:

    • Make a book of the children’s names modeled after Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin, Jr. and Eric Carle. We make a book called Mrs. Hamner, Mrs. Hamner, Who Do You See?

      • I take pictures of each student.

      • We use those pictures as our illustrations so that each student has a page in the book.

      • On each page the pattern continues with "_______, _______, Who do you see?" "I see ______ smiling at me!"

      • It ends with "I see lots of kindergarten kids smiling at me!"

      • This is by far the favorite book in our classroom library and is read dozens of times each day.

      • A pattern for the book is available online.

    • Use a long letter line where children can line up on their letter (first letter of their first name). Compare the line of people with the word wall to see if they are the same. How many people start with T? H? J?

    • Make a graph of how many people start with each letter. Which letter has the most people?

    • Make a graph of the number of letters in each first name.

    • Make a graph of the number of claps in each name.

    • Make your letter with your body.

    • Give each child a half sheet of paper with their first letter printed on it. Have them trace their letter with their fingers. Have them cover their letter with buttons or sunflower seeds in the shell.

    • Pour enough salt to cover the bottom of a cookie sheet. Put it at a center so students can practice writing their names with their fingers.

    • Write names in shaving cream.

    • Using two-inch squares of oak tag, write each student’s name using one letter per square. Do first name in one color and last name in another color. Put in envelopes with the name written correctly on the front so students have a model. As they assemble their letters to spell their names, they can refer to the envelope for help. These are self-checking. We keep ours in our browsing baskets to use over and over. Children soon start to trade envelopes and do their friends' names.

    • Make sugar cookies and have students decorate with M & Ms to form the first letter of their names.

    • Teach them the game: "Who Took the Cookies from the Cookie Jar?"

    • Later have children write both first and last names. Frame each one to teach the concept of word. Encourage them to leave a bigger space between the two words of their names.

    • Practice: Write name on blackboards, slates, from magnetic letters, etc.

    • Encourage children to write letters to one another or to family members using the Letter Generator student interactive. We have a permanent writing center will all kinds of materials for writing books, letters, stamping letters, etc.


Student Assessment / Reflections

This is a time to do kidwatching and see how your students are developing their concepts of print. Observe when the child is the helper to see how he/she writes his/her name, counts the letters, spells his/her name, and so forth.

Watch for use of the same concepts of print as the child completes other activities such as writes in journals, makes cards, or writes in salt.

You may formally want to assess concepts of print at regular intervals: beginning of the year, at the end of the semester, and at the end of the year. Letter and Word Concepts Rubric includes the following skills:

  1. The student begins to read at the front of the book.
    This skill is usually in place if children have often been read to and have had lots of "lap time". Give the student a book that is upside down and somewhat rotated. Ask the child to show you where we would start to read the book. Most children will turn the book over, turn it right side up, show you the front cover, and identify it as where we start to read. If a child cannot do so, he/she needs many more opportunities to be read to. Unfortunately, some children have almost no experience with books prior to kindergarten. This simple assessment will help you identify those children within the first few days of school.

  2. The student understands that print is separate from pictures.
    The student is shown a page in a book and asked to point to the pictures we look at. Then the student is asked to point to the words we read. This skill is developed as the student moves from telling the story by looking at the pictures to being aware that print carries meaning and tells the story.

  3. The student understands the concept of letter.
    When asked to do so, the student can point to a single letter such as the first letter in a word or the last letter in a word. The student can also accurately count the letters in a word. This lesson on names helps to develop that skill.

  4. The student understands the concept of word.
    The student can frame with his/her fingers the first word in a sentence and the last word in a sentence. The student can also count the number of words in a sentence. This lesson on names also helps to develop this skill.

  5. The student reads text from left to right.
    This is a higher level skill and is learned as the students experience print, including their names, and learn that we write and read from left to right. Some students will not master this skill until they have lots of shared reading experiences.

  6. The student makes a return sweep to the next line.
    Since many of the early emergent reading books have only one line of print, this is a more sophisticated skill and may not be mastered until well into the second semester of kindergarten.

  7. The student matches words by pointing to each word read.
    This skill is modeled in shared reading, but develops during guided reading as the student, using one-to-one correspondence, touches each word and reads the word correctly. This is an exciting stage when a student is well on the way to being a reader!