What’s in a Name?

In this lesson, children will count, compare, contrast and graph the number of letters in their names.

Lesson for:

(See Step 5: Adapt lesson for toddlers or preschoolers.)

Content Area:

Data Analysis and Probability

Learning Goals:

This lesson will help toddlers and preschoolers meet the following educational standards:

  • Understand numbers, ways of representing numbers, relationships among numbers and number systems
  • Understand measurable attributes of objects and the units, systems and processes of measurement
  • Understand patterns, relations and functions
  • Formulate questions that can be addressed with data and collect, organize and display relevant data to answer these questions

Learning Targets:

After this lesson, toddlers and preschoolers should be more proficient at:

  • Counting with understanding and recognizing “how many” in sets of objects
  • Sorting, classifying and ordering objects by size, number and other properties
  • Connecting number words and numerals to the quantities that they represent, using various physical models and representations
  • Identifying whether the number of objects in one group is greater than, less than or equal to the number of objects in another group
  • Directly comparing two objects with a measurable attribute (letters in a name) in common, to see which object has “more of” or “less of” the attribute and describing the difference

What’s in a Name?

Lesson plan for toddlers/preschoolers

Step 1: Gather materials.

  • The book, Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes
  • Index cards (5″x8″)
  • Colored markers
  • Easel w/large chart graphing paper to record collected data

Note: Small parts pose a choking hazard and are not appropriate for children age five or under. Be sure to choose lesson materials that meet safety requirements.

Step 2: Introduce activity.

  1. Explain to the children that today they are going to read a story about a little mouse who has a very unique name. Explain that each of us has a special name and that they are going to use their names to solve some math problems.
  2. Ask the children about their names: “What is special about your name? Is there someone else in your family who has the same name that you do? Can you tell us anything about your name?”
  3. Explain that the one thing that all of our names have in common is that our names are composed of letters. Explain that, while we can all have a different amount of letters in our names, all of our names are composed of letters.
  4. Say: “My name is Stephanie (use your own name) and I have__ letters in my name. Say: “S-t-e-p-h-a -n-i-e.” While you spell out your name, hold up a finger to represent each of the letters in your name so that, when you are finished spelling out your name, you are holding up nine fingers.
  5. Distribute the index cards. Give one to each child. Ask the children to print their names on the cards. Some children might need help with the spelling of their names or with the formation of the letters in their names. For younger children, you can print the child’s name on the index card beforehand and then ask the child to look at his/her name on the card.
  6. Ask the children what they notice about their names. By asking this question, you are looking for quantitative answers: “I have three letter S’s in my name. My name has four letters.” Later, you will be analyzing the data supplied by the letters in each of their names.
  7. Introduce the book Chrysanthemum, by Kevin Henkes. Explain that you are going to read a book about a little mouse with a big name. Explain that Chrysanthemum loves her name until she starts school. There are many themes embedded in this book, the most obvious being about bullying and respect. There are many cross-curricular teaching opportunities as well but, for the sake of our math focus, try to keep the children’s focus on the length of the mouse’s name. Say: “Have you noticed that the name Chrysanthemum has A LOT of letters? I wonder if it was difficult to learn how to spell Chrysanthemum?”
  8. Read the book. Pause when you come to the part of the book where the name is written out on an envelope: “Chrysanthemum loved the way her name looked when it was written with ink on an envelope. She loved the way it looked when it was written with icing on her birthday cake.” Say: “Let’s see just how many letters Chrysanthemum has in her name.” Ask: “Can anyone make a guess before we start to count?” As you count the letters, point to each letter, reinforcing one-to-one correspondence. Say: “Wow! Thirteen letters in her name.” Ask: “Do any of you have 13 letters in your name? Can anyone think of a name that also has 13 letters?”

Step 3: Engage children in lesson activities.

  1. Explain to the children that they are now going to investigate their own names. Say: “Everyone look at your names.” Ask: “How many letters does your name have?” Have the children write the number of letters in their names on the other side of their index cards, so that the name is on one side of the card and the number of letters is on the other side.
  2. Categorize the children into groups according to the number of letters in their names. Say: “Everyone who has two letters in their names, please stand up and sit in a group over here.” Repeat this process until all of the children are in a group. There may be only one child in a group and you may not have any children for certain numbers (for example, you may not have any children who have five letters in their names).
  3. Chart their names. On the graph paper on your easel (this activity also makes a nice bulletin board!), graph the children’s names according to the number of letters in their names. Title the graph “Our Name Graph.” Across the bottom of the graph, write numbers going from 0 to the number of letters in the longest name in your class. Then have the children come up as you call out the numbers and tape their names going up the chart. Say: “All of you who have two letters in your name, please come up with your index cards and place your cards in the spaces above the number two.” Continue this until all of the children’s name index cards are up on the graph.
  4. Compare and examine the collected data. Look at the graph and ask questions that use the following vocabulary words: the most, more than, less than, the least, the same. Ask: “Whose name has the most letters? Does David have more or less letters than Amy? Which names have the same amount of letters?”
  5. Extend the activity by identifying, counting and sorting by letters. For example, you can count the number of vowels each person has in his/her name. Or you could examine the amount of syllables each person has in his/her name. Again, all of this data can be recorded and displayed in the classroom. This is an activity that you can build on as the children’s skills increase and it ties into many other subject areas.

Additional Extensions

  • Once the children are able to identify vowels within the alphabet, they can count, compare and record the number of vowels each child has in his/her name.
  • This activity is a wonderful introduction to syllabication. You can have the children clap out the number of syllables in their names and, again, compare and record.
  • This can also be a special home project. Children can interview their parents, siblings and other relatives and ask them about the correct spellings of their names. Then, together, they can count the number of letters in each family member’s name. The children can bring this information back to school and construct a family tree, organizing their family members in numerical order according to the amount of letters in their names.

Step 4: Vocabulary.

  • More: A value that is higher or greater in number (e.g.,”Sally has more letters in her name than Ted, Jane and Amy.”)
  • Fewer: A value that is smaller in number (e.g.,”Ed has fewer letters in his name than Sally.”)
  • Greatest Amount: Largest amount; the one with the most (e.g.,”Chrysanthemum has the greatest amount of letters in her name.”)
  • Equal: To be the same in number or amount (e.g.,”Jane and Noah have an equal amount of letters in their names.”)
  • Numeral: The symbol used to represent a number of “how many” (e.g.,”The numeral 5 represents how many letters there are in the name Brian.”)
  • Graph: A diagram that exhibits a relationship, often functional, between two sets of numbers as a set of points having coordinates determined by the relationship
  • Data: Facts and statistics collected together for reference or analysis

Early Math Glossary

Step 5: Adapt lesson for toddlers or preschoolers.

Adapt Lesson for Toddlers
Toddlers may:
  • Not know how to spell their own names
  • Not have one-to-one correspondence
  • Not be able to recognize all of their numbers or letters
Child care providers may:
  • Provide assistance when children are counting the letters in their names
  • Write the number of letters that are in the child’s name on the back of the child’s index card
  • Help the child read and recognize the letters in his/her name
Adapt Lesson for Preschoolers
Preschoolers may:
  • Be able to identify vowels in the alphabet
  • Be able to identify syllables within words
  • Have a working knowledge of letters and how to form letters and be able to use invented spellings to write the names of family members and friends
Child care providers may:
  • Provide opportunities for the children to sort and count the letters in their names, based on vowels and consonants
  • Help the children identify the syllabication patterns in their names by clapping out the beats in their names and allowing the children to notice that each of the beats is a syllable
  • Help the children to count the syllables not only in their names, but in other objects in their environment

Suggested Books

  • Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes (New York: Greenwillow Books, 2007)
  • Cristanemo (Spanish version) by Kevin Henkes (New York: Greenwillow Books, 2008)

Music and Movement

Outdoor Connections

This activity can be taken outside to a place where there are a variety of flowers.

  • Looking at several types of flowers, children can count the petals on the flowers and graph that data. Rose has 16 petals, Daisy has 10 petals, etc. Compare and contrast the flowers using the recorded data.
  • Children can also sort flowers according to color and then graph that information. There are four yellow flowers, seven red flowers, etc. Compare and contrast the flowers using the recorded data.

Web Resources

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