As I have said in a previous post, I love meeting new people. It makes sense that one of my favorite parts of a new school year is getting to know my students. When I begin planning my first few days, I begin with ways to meet the kiddos. It doesn’t take long before I start to get bogged down with everything else that must be covered those first few days. There are seating charts, rules and classroom expectations, routines, materials, and pre-assessments. The “Who are you?” writing prompt ensures I get to know something about each student despite the craziness of starting a new school year.
Personal writing is a great, low-risk, safe activity for students. Junior high and high school students love to talk about themselves. Give students a time limit to tell their teacher what they want that person to know about themselves, including their favorite music, hobby, subject, former teacher, summer event, or trip. The list of subjects is limitless.
There is an important twist to the writing prompt because whatever the students choose to write, they must include why they wrote about that item. For example, a student might say country is their favorite type of music because country artists come to their county fair every year, or punk rock is their favorite because their older brother is in a punk band. The inclusion of the why factor will challenge student thinking and give you that much more information about the students background.
Gently pushing students from day one could be an expectation of your class. By asking why, this writing exercise shows that expectation. In addition, students will work quietly and independently for a period of time (rule and expectation), they will need paper and pens/pencils for every class (materials and expectation), they will write every day (routine), and most importantly for this blog, they will provide you with a sample of their writing (pre-assessment). The time limit may vary from five minutes (grades 6, 7, and 8) to seven minutes (grades 9 and 10) to 10 minutes (grades 11 and 12). The time limit answers the question of “How long does this have to be?” (expectation, routine). You can use this initial sample to formatively assess students and analyze what they know and don’t know in regard to grammar.
Want to add collaboration?
Ahead of time, teachers can prepare large chart paper or use the white boards with starter phrases. For example, Paper #1 says “My favorite music is …”, Paper #2 says “My favorite summertime activity was …”, Paper #3 says “My favorite school subject is …”, and continue until you have enough papers that allows 3-4 students at each paper to write.
This activity encourage students to work together (routine) and provides them with their first publication piece (expectation). After everyone writes on each paper, you can moderate a whole class discussion about patterns and themes and hear the why behind some of the more creative or intriguing posts. Pointing out specific writings makes students feel special and welcome (expectation) and collaboration and sharing shows that seating charts may not be necessary because the classroom is fluid.
Students benefit from this writing prompt because they get to write and talk about themselves in a safe space. Students are moving and sharing with others which activate different parts of brain function. You benefit because you get a nice writing sample to formatively assess skills, and you get to know your students which is the best part of all!