Learning Your ABCs: Showing Kids Why Studying Language Matters

By Mark Skoultchi

February 8, 2011

For several years my friend Matt and I have been tossing around the idea of me coming down to talk to his 4th grade class about what I do. Then this year the perfect opportunity arose. His class had been learning about prefixes and suffixes. They were discussing the the prefix “pro-” when one of the kids said, “Oh, like the sports drink Propel?” Matt nodded and said that there are people who use prefixes and other word parts to create brand names just like Propel. Would they be interested in having a namer come talk to them? The answer was a resounding yes.

A few weeks later I drove down to Palo Alto. I’m pretty good with kids, and have always enjoyed classroom visits. (Who knows, maybe my next calling in life is to be a teacher!) The one thing I knew for sure is that I had avoid boring them to death with a 20 page PowerPoint presentation.

Instead, I had six slides. I shared two fun slides with interesting trivia about the names Crayola and LEGO. Then I showed some of the exciting names Catchword has created in kid’s gaming, education, and clothing. When I mentioned LiveScribe the student teacher in the back actually had one that she was taking notes with then and there! After 10 minutes of question and answer time, we finally got to the fun stuff.

Brainstorming.

This was how we spent the majority of our time. My sixth and final slide laid out the challenge: We had a client who wanted to name a new slushy drink. (The client was mostly fictional, but the kids didn’t have to know that. It made the challenge all the more exciting!) The flavors would be bold and exciting (Wild Berry Rush, etc.) but the names couldn’t say anything about a specific flavor. We talked about how we couldn’t use existing slushy, juice, or other beverage names. And finally, it needed to sound cold. Really really cold.

At this point I asked them to come up with some other words for cold. We listed a bunch of synonyms. Then I took us in a different direction and asked, “What are things that are cold or that you associate with cold places?” This is when I really started getting impressed. The kids brainstormed imaginative metaphors for “really cold,” including: blizzard, igloo, arctic, polar, polar bear, sleet, avalanche, and frostbite.

After we had a good list of words, I set them free in their small groups. I walked around and helped nudge each group along. After 20 minutes of small group brainstorming we came back together and each group shared two or three of their best names with the group. A few that rose to the top include:

  • Frozen Fruit Fury
  • Polar Ice Snap
  • Freeze-alicious
  • Frostbite Fusion
  • Chubby Penguin (I love the playfully abstract nature of this one.)

I’ll say this: I was bowled over by the quality of the names these kids created.

After we shared the top names, I made a few more final comments. My key piece of advice was that it’s important to learn English in 4th grade if you want to do something linguistically creative like naming when you grow up. (Oh, and because I know how to really win kids over, I gave each of them a Catchword-branded bag of M&Ms. LOL)

A few weeks later when the kids sent me thank you notes, they said how much fun they had brainstorming. A few of them even said that they want to be namers when they grow up. So prepare yourself fellow namers: 15 yeas from now, we might have some impressive new talent (and competition!) entering the naming industry.

(And finally, here are a few of the fun thank you notes I received. I like the sentiment expressed in that last one a lot.)


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