I try to do this activity on the first or second day of school, so that we can capture the students' true beginning of the year impressions.
I start by reading the book A Bad Case of the Stripes by David Shannon. If you haven't read this book, it is about a girl named Camilla Cream who has trouble being herself. She loves Lima beans and people think that she is odd because of it. She begins to be so easily swayed by what others think that she starts to change at the drop of a hat. When students say the Pledge of Allegiance, she breaks out in stars and stripes. When a doctor tries to give her medicine, she turns into a pill capsule. The only way she can resolve this issue is to BE HERSELF and eat Lima beans of course.
After reading this story, we talk about those odd qualities that we all have that make us uniquely who we are. I share some of my quirks and often, students will share as well. This is a great time for us to begin listening to each other and respecting the opinions of others. This may seem a little primary, but sixth graders are at the point where they tend to be very insecure about anything that makes them different. They want to be the same as their peers, and are extremely quick to change in order to fit in. I always begin by telling some "strange" things about myself. Several students will also be willing to share. I talk about how boring the world would be if we were all the same, so we need to celebrate our differences. I tell them that our class is a safe place where you can be yourself without anyone making fun of you or telling you that you are weird. I feel like this activity helps set a positive tone for the year and begins to create the climate of collaboration and teamwork in my classroom.
Now, it is time for students to write a letter to their future self. I tell them that this letter will come back to them at the end of sixth grade, and that they will have changed so much by then!
I tell the students to start by saying:
Dear Me, or Dear (insert your name here),
Then, I ask them to describe themselves in detail: what they look like, what they are wearing, their personality, likes and dislikes, hobbies, etc. I also ask them to describe their household and future goals. It should be a snapshot of exactly who they are at the moment.
I usually ask that they write at least a page. In addition, to being part of the time capsule, this letter is the first writing sample I see. It helps me gauge their writing style and ability. I plan on beginning the year with narrative writing, and this letter gives me an idea of where to begin. The bonus feature is that it also helps me get to know my new students quickly.
I love doing this activity, although many students gripe about it. When they see in at the end of the year in their time capsule, they will laugh hysterically!
I give each student a piece of white card stock and ask them to draw a self portrait. They draw just their face and use color. It is kind of a silly assignment, and clearly I am not meeting any standards, but it is one more artifact for the time capsule. I feel that my job as a teacher is to teach the whole child. If a student's emotional, social, and physical needs aren't met, he or she won't perform academically. Before the students begin drawing, I show them my self portrait which they always laugh at because I am a terrible artist. This breaks the ice, and we all laugh and have fun as we get to know each other.