Say your own name, followed by a physical motion or gesture that represents something about you, eg swing your arm as if hitting a tennis ball.
In unison, invite the rest of your group to repeat your name and mimic your motion.
Next, your left-hand neighbour calls their name and adds a motion.
Invite your group to repeat their name and motion, and then repeat your name and motion.
This process continues all the way around the circle, introducing the name and motion of each person and, before moving onto the next (new) person, immediately repeating the names and motions of each person in reverse back to the start.
For example, if the fourth person (Pedro) has just introduced himself, the group will then say “PEDRO” (followed by his nominated motion,) “CHERYL” (motion,) “AVRIL” (motion) and finally “MARK” (motion.)
Continue around the circle until everyone in your group has been introduced.
How To Play Narrative
Yeah, yeah, I know. This motion name-game is as old as the hills. Yet, no matter how often I struggle with these thoughts before I reluctantly present it, I am always pleased with the results.
Indeed, I have had participants come up to me several years after an event, still remembering my name and my ‘motion’ at the time. Impressive.
You see, our brains think in pictures, not words, so we are far more effective at memory recall when we can associate a picture (of a movement) with new data (a name.)
Invite your group to stand in a circle facing each other. One person will kick-off (often you) by saying their name loud enough for the group to hear, and then follow it with a physical motion or movement that represents something about that person (you.)
For example, I will say “MARK” and may follow it with the swing of my arms as if I was serving a tennis ball above my head.
Upon this introduction, the rest of the group – in unison – will repeat my name while, at the same time, mimic my movement.
Moving clockwise, the person to the left of the newly-introduced will repeat the process, upon which, the group will repeat their name and copy their movement.
And so on around the circle.
This pattern works well, but if you think your group is up for it, present this further challenge: Ask that as each new person is introduced, the group works in reverse and repeats the name and the motion of every known person all the way back to the start.
For example, if the fourth person (Pedro) has just introduced himself, the group will then say “PEDRO” in together (followed by his nominated motion,) “CHERYL” (motion,) “AVRIL” (motion) and finally “MARK” (motion.)
Keep moving around the circle until everyone in your group has been introduced.
Practical Leadership Tips
Your group needs zero name-knowingness to be successful at this motion name-game. However, that said, you are strongly advised to introduce it after a series of fun, interactive exercises to warm your group up first. It’s not often necessary to know everyone’s names at the very beginning of a program, and formal name-games played too early just make people feel very uncomfortable because we tell ourselves that we’re not good at remembering names. Have some fun first, and then tackle the sensitive subject of names.
I have worked this exercise with groups of up to 30 people in one large circle, and it works a treat. However, this number is rather large, so I suggest that you ‘chunk it’ with groups of say 10 to 15 people, the process will be more efficient.
Many people are familiar with this very traditional name-game. To this end, try something new described in the Variations tab.
You could integrate Motion Name-Game as part of a well-designed SEL program to establish and maintain healthy and supportive relationships, not to mention, enjoy a fun time together.
Specifically, this activity offers opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Identifying Personal, Cultural & Linguistic Assets
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
There is no specific health & wellness perspective to this activity other than promoting the benefits to one’s wellbeing of enjoying a good laugh.
In a small way, you could argue that the focus required to successfully remember the names and actions of every person in the circle may speak to the benefits of being mindful not to mention, resilient, but these would be considered minor attributes belonging to this particular game.
If you can think of more explicit ways in which Motion Name-Game could be purposefully integrated into a health and wellness program, please leave a comment at the base of this page.
Sound & Motion Name-Game: Add a sound to the motion, eg in my case, I will click my tongue as I serve the tennis ball, which of course everyone shall repeat (after saying my name) as they mimic my swinging motion.
Middle Names: For groups that have an existing high level of name-knowingness, use middle names and a motion.
Repeating Initials: Rather than (or in addition to) using a motion, ask each person to introduce themselves by adding an adjective (or favourite fruit/vegetable, animal, etc) starting with the initial of their first name, eg “MARVELLOUS MARK” or “PEPPERMINT PAMELA” which everyone repeats.
Values: For a deeper connection, invite people to demonstrate a gesture that represents one of their most important values. For a bit of fun, ask the person introducing themselves to mime the gesture, and encourage the rest of the group to guess what the value is.
Structured ice-breaker for in-person & virtual gatherings.
Amusing get-to-know-you-better stunt for all groups.
Interactive name card game with friendly competition.
Useful Framing Ideas
Research has clearly shown that our brain thinks in pictures and not words, so one of the best ways to retain knowledge or learning is to associate an image with the data. To this end, I’m excited to share this fun little game to help us learn all of the names in this group…
One of the best ways to learn is to reinforce what is being learned, either through practice or repetition. This next exercise will help you do just that…
Reflection Tips & Strategies
Coupled with one or more reflection strategies, here are some sample questions you could use to process your group’s experience after playing this fun ice-breaker name-game:
Are you good at remembering people’s names? Why or why not?
What did your ‘inner-voice’ say when you realised that you were going to learn a lot of names?
In addition to repetition, did you use any other strategies to recall someone’s name?
What did you learn about other people from this exercise?
The inspiration for Motion Name-Game, and many more highly interactive and fun name-games, was sourced from the following publication: