The Name Game: Engaging Secondary Students on the First Day of School

What if you flipped the script on the first day in a secondary classroom?

What if this was the year you chose not to go over the syllabus UNTIL the 3rd or 4th day?

Does this scare you or seem like it would take more planning than your normal routine? This is a challenge to step outside the box, surprise yourself and your students, with something out of the ordinary and rooted in building relationships.


This idea comes from Chelsea Andrews, a former high school English and history teacher for Sunnyside High School in Tucson, Arizona.


I must warn you, this idea is somewhat silly, and it takes the teacher to buy in and get kids excited. It will be worth it once you see the community building that occurs in your classroom from day 1. Fill the relational bucket from the start; you won’t regret it!

Start with your bellwork routine. You still want kids to know what’s expected of them the minute they walk into your classroom. Today’s bellwork will be focused on get-to-know you questions that each student can answer independently. Make sure questions are generic, taking into account that students are arriving with varying backgrounds and experiences. This should be an entry point for everyone, not something that isolates or “others.”


After teaching your bellwork procedure, transition into the name game. You might have some eyerolls, so be sure to model with authenticity and enthusiasm. They’ll buy into it if you have bought into it!

Here are the steps:

  • Give students time to think about something they like to do for fun outside of school. Have them show you a thumbs up when they have it.
  • Use popsicle sticks with prewritten names or take a volunteer to start. 
  • That student stands up, says their name, then says their activity with an accompanied action. This part is key! 
  • The next student stands up, repeats the previous person’s name while doing their action. 
  • Then, that student says their name & their activity with the accompanying action.
  • Repeat all of these steps. The last student will have to remember everyone’s name and action, but you can always give hints & help out!

Here’s a rule that you could put into place to make it more engaging: no actions can be repeated!

Here is a teacher model you could use:


“I’m Chelsea and I like to read,” proceed to act out opening a book and turn pages. 


This activity creates a sense of community and silliness the first day. Plus, it prioritizes the kids knowing each other and not just the teacher. 


As a closure, have the students answer the following questions on a sticky note or notecard:

  1. Name 2 people you had something in common with. Do you know these people? Are they new to you?
  2. Name someone you never met before and their activity. Why did you pick that person? 
  3. Who is someone you have a follow-up question for? What’s your question?



Consider this you official challenge to try something new on the first day! If you tried this activity, please let us know by commenting below! And remember, kids LONG to be known by others, not just their teachers. This is your chance to create that space!