Exploring meaning through nouns and names


A great activity suitable for both intermediate to advanced learners, exploring the meanings of names and nouns is a really interesting way of getting your English students to engage with the language in a very concrete way. It also makes certain words memorable, because some of the roots and real meanings of certain words are very bizarre indeed!

Two helpful starters for this kind of activity can be found at the Slate news website (http://tinyurl.com/3tm3zke)     and at life.com (http://tinyurl.com/427mr3s). These little slideshows show a range of famous people who inspired the birth of new words, such as silhouette and leotard. Ask your students if they can think of any more examples or if they know anyone with a name based on a noun. Does this occur in their native language?

Onestopenglish has some fantastic resources for this kind of class. There’s a creative warmer designed to get the class talking (http://www.onestopenglish.com/community/lesson-share/lesson-share-archive/speaking/speaking-whats-in-a-name/145137.article). There’s another one here, which discusses American name-based slang, which would also allow you to look at rhymes and pronunciation, if your class is at that level (http://www.onestopenglish.com/grammar/pdf-content/vocabulary-american-english/american-english-names-worksheet/147066.article). Finally, there’s a really good discussion about name meaning and significance, where students can talk about their own names and what they mean (http://www.onestopenglish.com/community/lesson-share/extras/discussions/discussions-whats-in-a-name/145233.article).

You can also find some activities on this subject on Macmillan English Campus. Just go into the Word and Phrase Search, and enter ‘name,’ ‘noun,’ ‘identity,’ etc., and choose the appropriate exercises from the results.

A final fun idea for this name-based class would be to go to the Internet Surname Database (http://www.surnamedb.com/) and look at some typical English names, such as Smith, Jackson, Abbot, Walker or Harper, and have a look at the roots of these words (for example, Jackson would have originally been the son of a man named Jack). Ask your students to guess where these popular surnames come from: can they see the ‘son’ in Jackson? Do surnames in your students’ home countries have similar root meanings? Do your students know where their surname comes from and what it originally meant? It could be a really nice end to the lesson, or start of the next lesson, for everyone to present what their names mean: I’m sure that’ll get more than a few laughs, and the Internet Surname Database is huge, so everyone should be able to find their own.


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