What’s in a Name (Game)? Music Class SEL and Assessment


Names. We see 100-1,000 or more kids in music class. Sometimes the kids have music every other day. Sometimes they have music a steady 3 times a week, 2 times, a week…..or a weird block schedule where they will not see you every week. How can you even begin to learn names in a music classroom?

But, putting yourself in someone else’s shoes:
Do you have an unusual name or spell your name in a not-so “common” way? 
Raise your hand if you got extremely frustrated when people would mispronounce your name, comment on how “ethnic” it is, or misspell it.



My maiden name is fairly common around the area where I grew up (Missouri “Rhineland”) area, but it’s not that common in the wider world. It’s Whithaus (short “i”). It’s a derivative of the original German name of “Witthaus”. Anyway, when I went to college, one of the orchestra/strings teachers would insist on calling me “Veethaus”. True, that’s most likely how it’s pronounced in Germany, but I wasn’t thrilled that he called attention to it. And, then, there’s the changes to “Karen”. (Kathy, Sharon, Katie, Katherine, etc.). Most of the time this happened when I was middle school or older, but man, it bugged me. It made me think I wasn’t important enough to at least be called by the right name. 

I get it. After becoming a teacher and getting kids mixed up with siblings and calling kids by the wrong name because they reminded me of another student, well, getting names mixed up happens. 

As teachers, we can sometimes tell a kid sorry, but move on. And honestly, for the children who have been traumatized or otherwise have a low self-esteem, acknowledging their names and owning up to mistakes means a great deal to them. How can this be done?

  • Seating charts. I know the jury is deadlocked on music teachers using seating charts. Honestly, I found them very handy for subs, for being organized at the beginning of class, and for a “home spot” for talking (much like primary age kids gather on the rug.) I LOVED, loved, loved using iDoceo for seating charts as well as grading records. I could easily take individual pictures while assigning kids to other tasks or games and embed them on the child’s profile. iDoceo is NOT web-based, so there was no confidentiality issue. It’s wonderful for the Save the Sub binder. I had a Noteworthy Rug, so I could upload a picture of the rug and slide the student images to the correct square.
  • Repetition, repetition, repetition. I made sure I spoke the names of at least 5 students every day if I didn’t know them, even if it was just, “Great job, Joe!”
  • Make it a challenge. I used a modified version of Whole Brain Teaching in my classroom and had a scoreboard. If I got a student name wrong, I’d give myself a minus.
  • Empathize with them, but let them know mistakes happen. Like I said, people mixed my name up quite a bit. AND, if you haven’t already discovered, kids will mix your name up with another teacher’s. I don’t know how many times I was called by the art teacher’s name. So I came up with a gentle solution that simultaneously reinforced my name and let a child know I understood. “I’m so sorry I keep goofing up on your name <insert name to reinforce it>. I know how you feel, because sometimes kids will call me by Ms. Potter’s name. Do you want to start the next round of…..<insert smooth transition back to the task on hand.>
  • Ask them for THEIR help. It’s OK to admit that you have trouble with names sometimes. Chalk it up to old age or whatever, but I’d avoid saying “I’ve got SO many names to remember!” unless you connect with, “I’m betting you might be overwhelmed with your class teacher name, art teacher name” etc. Again, by doing it this way, you are showing understanding and empathy. Otherwise, a child MIGHT feel that they are just part of a multitude and won’t feel as important.
    Ask the child,”Can you suggest a little trick to help me remember [how to spell] your name?” You involve them in a “teaching” process AND they will come up with solutions that are OK with them, and you won’t accidentally offend them (like connecting their name with the way they look, for example). 
  • Learn with games! HERE’s the fun part. But did you know you can also use these games for pre-assessment or to assess retention? Here’s a fun call and response game I used with my third graders every year. I assessed their ability to retain a melody and their understanding of call and response.

Telephone Game

I have a video with the melody of this name song, which includes call and response, as well as re.


  • I can remember the melody of the song through audiation.
  • I can demonstrate the hand position and pitch of re in relation to mi and do.
  • I can demonstrate a knowledge of call and response.
  • I can demonstrate singing alone within my comfort zone and communicate what that comfort zone is.


  • Assessment Checklist (find out how to get a free one at the end of this post)
  • Optional-toy cell phone (not advisable as long as any strain of COVID is around!)


  • Solfege warm-up, gradually adding the fragment “mi-re-do”. Scaffold by doing so-mi patterns first. Do not add other solfa until the class is able to do the first patterns.
  • Segue into teaching the whole melody of the Telephone Song.
  • Introduce call and response by making up a short example. (For instance, tell them when you point at them, they must say “Yippee!” no matter what else you say.)
  • Demonstrate the telephone song by taking turns being the call and response with the students. 
  • Explain the directions to them. (It is up to you whether you let them have a redo)
  • Select a student randomly to begin.
  • The class and soloist does the first round. Assess during the solo.


  • If you can tell a student is very nervous and anxious, don’t push them. Offer to let them pick a friend to do it with them away from the class or ask them, “I understand. How many people do you want to go before you until you feel you’ve learned it enough to be comfortable?” Or just, “Let a friend know if you want [them/him/her] to choose you.” 
    Remember, performing in front of a group solo is not the objective right now. Safe space is.
  • Don’t do this all in one day unless you have a high achieving class or one that can just stay on task. For my average class, I would have 5-6 sing each period and then do something kinesthetic. You will be keeping track of who has had a turn with your assessments and tell the class each time who still needs a turn.

And there you have it! A fun name game and a quick assessment.

I mentioned earlier I had a simple assessment checklist for the Telephone Game. Here’s how you can get it AND a number of other things:

  1. Click on my sign-up page for my newsletter and read carefully. (I just want to reassure you I’m not a spammer, but a real person!)
  2. Sign up for my weekly newsletter.
  3. You should be redirected to a thank you page that leads to a Google spreadsheet. Click on the link
  4. There you will find links to a variety of freebies, including the Telephone Game assessment in Word and PDF!


Teachers Pay Teachers is having their back-to-school sale on August 3 and 4! In my store, you will save 20%, OR use the TPT code BTS21 for an additional 5% off. And…guess what, speaking of name games…..I have a nice name game bundle with a variety of games and worksheets for grades K-5. You could get that for 25% off!

Thinking about all of you. PLEASE be safe. PLEASE listen to guidelines. Take care of yourself, and I’ll share again with you next week.

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Hi there!

I am an elementary music teacher and adjunct professor from Missouri and have completed my Ph.D. in music education through the University of Kansas.

I am an elementary music teacher and adjunct professor from Missouri and have just completed my Ph.D. in music education through the University of Kansas.


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