Name Games for Music Class: Why Use Them?


(Update from last year’s name game post).

Name games are critical for a music classroom, even if the teacher has been in the building for years. But why?

  • Some have trouble remembering 500+ names, especially after a summer break.
  • Some of you are brand-new to the building or teaching itself.
  • You will have new students whose names you need to learn. In addition, they need to know everyone’s name.
  • For students, especially younger students, names are essential.

I will be in the “new teacher” role for a while. Because of the current teacher shortage, I will be doing a long-term substitute position at my old district (but not my original building). This will apply to me as I learn about 400+ new names. I don’t know if I’ll be there for nine weeks or a semester. Regardless, I will do my best to learn names by Labor Day to help with classroom management and streamlining.

Using a student’s name is essential to Social Emotional Learning (SEL). This includes pronunciations. When you look at your roster for the first time or while taking roll during your first class, chances are good you will see an unfamiliar name. It’s OK to ask the child how they want to say their name. If you still say it incorrectly or have a child with a “common” name who either pronounces it or spells it unusually, take the high road and apologize. Use it as a teachable moment about empathy with discussions such as:

Do you have an unusual name or spell your name in a not-so “common” way? How can we remember to say or spell it correctly?

Do people sometimes get confused and call you by someone else’s name? (Hugely guilty at that here).

Raise your hand if you got extremely frustrated when people would mispronounce your name, comment on how “ethnic” it is, or misspell it.

I would gently tell the students I know how they feel and explain why. I would also include myself in the discussion. I can’t count the number of times I was called by the art teacher’s name, the classroom teacher’s, or the librarian’s.

As far as teasing someone about their names, well, that’s a sore subject with me:

My maiden name is relatively 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 are the changes to “Karen.” (Kathy, Sharon, Katie, Katherine, etc.). Most of the time, this happened when I was in middle school or older, but it bugged me. It made me think I wasn’t significant enough to be at least called by the correct name. And then there was the time the local paper printed the honor roll but started my name with “S” instead of “W” (you get the idea…..)

And then, of course, there’s always this:

I get it. After becoming a teacher, getting kids mixed up with siblings and calling kids by the wrong name because they reminded me of another student, 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 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. I LOVED, loved, and loved using iDoceo for seating charts and grading records. 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 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 terrific 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. Of course, I won’t have a rug with this long-term subbing gig, so I need to develop new ideas. Please feel free to share how you have your kids seated! You might win a $10 gift certificate or a free TPT product.
  • Repetition, repetition, repetition. I ensured I spoke the names of at least five students every day if I didn’t know them, even if it was just, “Great job, Joe!”

Make it a challenge. Do something like keeping a daily score of how many times you mess up on a name. Let the kids predict how many times you might do this. Do it in a way that the children will want to encourage you to get it correct, not incorrect.

Empathize with them, but let them know mistakes happen. As 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 devised a peaceful solution reinforcing my name and letting a child know I understood. “I’m so sorry I keep goofing up on your name <insert name to back 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.>

It’s OK to admit that you have trouble with names sometimes. Ask them for THEIR help. Chalk it up to old age. Still, 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, you are showing understanding and empathy by doing it this way. 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 how they look, for example).

Learn with games! 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. Here’s the fun part.

Telephone Game

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


  • I can remember the melody of the song through audition.
  • 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!)


Class: Hey, <insert student name>.

Student: I hear you calling my name. (Repeat these two lines)

Class: You’re wanted on the telephone

Student: If it’s not <student picks another student>, I’m not home.


  • 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 can make 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 do 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, “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 stay on task. You will keep track of who has had a turn with your assessments and tell the class each time who still needs a turn. For my average class, I would have 5-6 sing each period and then do something kinesthetic.

Jump In, Jump Out

This is a fun activity I learned this summer when I began to work with a great organization called Different Dynamics. This is the version we used from Make Music Rock! The kids seemed to love it because it focuses on their abilities.

Folk Songs

There are several folk songs and children’s games that include names:

  • Pawpaw Patch*
  • Bounce High, Bounce Low*
  • Chinka-hanka (modify)*
  • Hickety-Pickety Bumblebee*
  • Willobee Wallobee
  • Strut, Miss Mary *
  • Sing “Hello <child’s name>, using the tune of Good Night Ladies.

The songs with the asterisks can be found in the following resources:

Name Games for Music Class, Grades PreK-2

Name Games for Music Class, Grades 3-5

Name Games for Music Class Back to School Bundle

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

Click on my sign-up page for my newsletter on the homepage of this blog and read carefully. (I want to reassure you I’m not a spammer but a natural person!).

A link to a Google folder includes all the freebies that are just for my newsletter subscribers. That folder consists of an assessment checklist for the Telephone Game. This shared folder link will be on every newsletter.


Teachers Pay Teachers is having their back-to-school sale on August 2 and 3, 2022! In my store, you will save 20% OR use the TPT code BTS22 for an additional 5% off.

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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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