Celebrating Students During Back to School Week with the Name Jar Book

Celebrating Students During Back to School Week with the Name Jar Book


When it comes to writing lesson plans during back to school season, lessons and activities that celebrate students as individuals is always at the top of my list! And one way that I love to do that is by starting by celebrating students' names!


Classroom community builds as soon as we all know each others' names. That is when I always feel like our classroom is officially up and running! I am definitely guilty of still having to peek once or twice at name tags after a few days in, but by celebrating students' names we are all into the swing of things sooner rather than later.


My goal each school year is to make students feel comfortable and welcomed in our classroom environment. I strive to make our classroom to be a place where students feel safe to take risks, work together as a team, and feel that they are valued and appreciated. All of this begins with knowing, celebrating, and calling students by their names. Each name represents something special to all of us, celebrating that is an important way to build a positive classroom community.


Here are four activities that I do with my students during the first month of school that you will LOVE to add to your lesson plans! They truly help us to get to know each other, celebrate each child's uniqueness, and help decorate our classroom together. Try one or all of them to help build your own positive classroom community.



Read Alouds and Discussions: 

The Name Jar and How Alma Got Her Name


Name Jar activities for upper elementary



When it comes to celebrating students as individuals and celebrating students' names I have two go to picture books that I love to share and discuss with my new bunch of students! These books are The Name Jar written by Yangsook Choi and Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal.


The Name Jar tells the story about Unhei during her first week of school in America after recently moving from Korea. During her first encounter with students on the bus she was teased about her name. She was embarrassed and when she went into her new classroom told her class that she did not have an American name, yet. Her welcoming classmates started a name jar with suggestions for her to choose. As the story continues key points come up names with meanings, names from other countries, American names, and not being able to pick your own name. This story has a wonderful ending with Unhei realizing the value of her own Korean name. I love this book and it serves double duty as it can spark discussions not just about names but also classroom community. It is perfect to have students reflect on their names and the story about them. Grab guiding questions and a reflection activity for this book at the end of this post.


Alma and How She Got Her Name tells the story about another young girl who is embarrassed of her name and says it is just too long. She sits with her father who tells her the story of each one of her names and what they mean. After listing, Alma is proud of her name. The author's story at the end of this book is a powerful message to read to the kids. She ends her message with two thought-provoking questions for students to reflect on their names and who they are. Grab guiding questions and a reflection activity for this book at the end of this post.


These two books are perfect to read together to compare and contrast character traits and themes. I suggest reading these books before completing the following activities.



Adjective Self Portraits

I love completing this simple, yet meaningful project during the first week of school. After reading the picture books and discussing our names students brainstorm all of the words and phrases that describe themselves that also start with the first letter of their name. I have the kids just brainstorm on paper. After a few minutes of brainstorming on their own, I partner them up with a new classmate and they work together to brainstorm ideas for each other, two heads are always better than one!


After our brainstormed lists are completed, students create a large self-portrait on 12x18 size construction paper. I borrow a set of class mirrors from the art teacher and give a short tutorial on how to draw self portraits, and the kids are off to create their best self-portraits to decorate the classroom! This tutorial is great! You can watch it yourself to learn tips to teach your kids or share them with your students.


Once students are finished with their self-portraits they decorate the empty space around their drawings with all of the brainstormed words and phrases that describe themselves. I love learning these up all year long as a representation of how special and unique each student is! Plus there is nothing better than classroom decor created by the class themselves!



All About Me Apple Acrostic Poems






Hands down my favorite activity of the year are getting to know you Apple Acrostic Poems. Not only do they give the students an opportunity to tell about themselves and help their new classmates get to know them, but they also make the cutest back-to-school bulletin board or door decor, again, all hand-made by the students!


These are great fun for the students to make and each apple core is truly unique to represent how unique each student is! This adorable display with help you to show how all of your individual apples are part of one big crop - your classroom community! Once you make them one year, you will be hooked and it will become a back to school tradition you do each year!



Get to Know Us Photo Album



back to school activities upper elementary


I love creating a class photo album with pictures and descriptive paragraphs all about each student. I provide students with prompting questions for them to respond to all about them and their names. Instead of having students write out the responses, I have them type them out during our first few weeks in the computer lab. Once all paragraphs are typed, we print them out. Each page of the photo album includes a photo (I take one on the first day of school) and the paragraph all about them. When all pages are completed we bind the pages together and create a class photo album. 


Not only do the kids love to read (and reread) this photo album, but it is such a great book to have in the classroom. When we have a new student, student-teacher, class helper, or anyone new to our room, we share this book with them so that they can quickly get to know a little about each student in our class. I also always display the class photo album during parent-teacher conferences so that the parents and families can take a peek at our class and see who the kids are always talking about at home. Plus it gives the parents something to look at in the hallway as they wait. Grab the prompting questions that I use at the bottom of this post. 



No matter which of these activities you choose to do with your students during back to school season, celebrating students and their names is a must! Not only do these activities engage students and help your class get to know each other but they build confidence in your students and help you to create a positive classroom environment that will last all year long!




You might be interested in reading:






Must-Haves for Your Classroom Library {blog post coming soon}




Check out my favorite back to school HERE

Like these must-have class rules set that comes with
five styles for you to choose from!



back to school rules posters for upper elementary





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Celebrating Students with the Name Jar Book






Celebrate Students' Names!

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