In the first week of school, it’s important for students to understand that they are an important part of the classroom community. In these five lessons, students introduce themselves to the class and learn about each other. The lessons contain teacher created resources using graphics from Handwriting Fonts by Kevin and Amanda, Melonheadz Illustrating, and Creekside Teacher Tales.
I remember completing a time capsule when I was in elementary school and thinking it was one of the coolest activities ever. My teacher handed us a one sided sheet of paper and told us to answer well because someone important would read these sheets one day. She explained that after we completed the activity, she would take them to a secret place and bury them in the ground. They would stay there for almost an entire year before being removed.
One day, at the end of the year, she brought in this large, dirty tube. We all sat in amazement wondering what it could be. She explained that this was a buried treasure we had all helped to create. She opened the tube and pulled out our time capsule sheets. She handed back the pages to each student and we read our answers from the beginning of the year. I was surprised at how so much had changed - not only my answers to some of the questions, but even my handwriting! I remember feeling great about myself as a learner because I had learned so many new things and grew so much from the beginning of the year to the end.
When I became a teacher, I gave a similar activity for my students to complete. That activity has changed over the years to become one that not only interests students and allows me to get to know them, but also as a way to get that first writing sample from students.
I typically use this activity during the first week of school. It’s a great exercise for students to complete while I am testing individual students.
I pass a packet out to each student and explain its purpose. I tell them that I will use this is many ways. First, it will help me understand them as learners and people. Second, this is my first opportunity to see their skills as writers. I will use their answers to guide my writing lessons for the first few weeks. If I see that most students need reminders about capitalization or punctuation, then I will create lessons that review those skills, etc. Lastly, and probably most important, I tell them that they will see these again at the end of the year. I let them know that they will change a great deal this year, but sometimes change is hard to recognize as its happening. At the end of the year, students will receive these back and be able to see just how much they’ve changed.
I explain that I do not expect them to complete the packet in one day; in fact, I prefer them not to. I want them to take their time and write thoughtful answers. I have them turn to the last prompt and make a big deal about the amount of space I’ve given them to write. I want them to do just what the directions say: write as much as possible about your family. This portion is what I mainly use as a writing sample. Students tend to be able to write more about their families than a boxed writing prompt. After I explain the entire packet, I allow them to work for at least 30 minutes.
At the end of the work time, I survey the room and see how students are doing. If students are working hard and still engaged, I allow them to work longer. If most are wrapping up their writing or becoming distracted, then I ask them to stop and direct their attention to me.
You can choose whether this is an activity that is shared and when to share it. I usually like to have each student share their answer to “What you should know about me”, but only when everyone has had a chance to complete their packet. I’ve found that students would sometimes copy other’s responses when I had them share before everyone had finished their packet.