I like to have my students create the cover of the book, and since one of my teaching partners is a former art teacher, I have access to some pretty creative ideas! This year we gave each student a 2 inch square. In the square, each student had to make a design that included his or her name. Then, we tape all of the squares on an 8 1/2 by 11 piece of paper to make the covers (front and back/2 sided) of the book. If you are doing this for the entire sixth grade like we are, you'll have a couple of extra pages as well. I like to copy the cover onto card stock to protect the contents of the book a little bit more.
Near the end of the school year, I ask my students to brainstorm all of the funny, exciting, and happy memories they've had in sixth grade. We talk about them in individual groups and share with the whole class. I ask them to choose one special memory that happened at school or a school related event to write about. From past experience I have learned to add that the memory cannot embarrass another person.
I ask students to write a detailed account of the memory, which usually ends up being a paragraph, on a piece of lined paper using their best writing. I have them put their names directly above the writing. This is because I end up cutting the memories and compiling them into a book. I have done this several different ways over the years, but I like having them write it by hand. Even though it might look better if it was all typed up, I love to capture their sixth grade handwriting.
Every year, I run into a former student, now in high school, who tells me he or she has just read their memory book. This project is quite a bit of work, but those comments tell me that is worth it. I keep doing it year after year even though it can be stressful to put it all together during the last weeks of school.
For many years I've asked my students to give their classmates a compliment at the end of the year. When I taught a self contained 6th grade class, I gave everyone a class list and asked that each student write a compliment for every other student. They'd give it to me and I'd compile them onto one document. I'd print out a paper for each student with his or her name on the top and a list of compliments to follow. I liked this method because I could "edit" some of the uncomplimentary compliments, but it is really time consuming. One of my friends recently made a google doc of her class list for compliments. The students would type their compliments on to this doc, and she'd compile them into one list. Way easier!
Now that we are departmentalized, compiling 90 sets of compliments would put me over the edge. We came up with a system last year that worked pretty well. We had each person put his or her name on the top of 2 pieces of card stock. The first one will be a compliment list and the second a cover sheet to hide previous compliments. I have found that the comments are more original when the students cannot see what was already written. The students rotate around quietly writing their compliment and pulling the cover sheet down over it. We have 3 classes of sixth graders so we will need to rotate our students to compliment the other homerooms. It generally takes 30-45 minutes per group. It is also time consuming, but a little less difficult on the teacher. Once every student has given every other student a compliment the list is ready to go into the book.
I must warn you about a couple of compliment issues I have encountered over the years. 1. The Obvious Complimenter. This person doesn't really give a compliment as much as make an observation. For example, You have blonde hair. 2. The Backhanded Compliment Giver. This person starts off innocent enough with something like: You are super nice, but can't leave well enough alone. Their compliment always ends with a zinger. You might see this: You are super nice when you aren't annoying me. 3. I Really Don't Relate to People Compliment Giver. This student will give a compliment about something that might be embarrassing to someone else. For example, You are shy or You are short. These characteristics aren't always seen as positive and should be avoided. I usually have an extensive talk with my students about these 3 types of anti-compliments before we begin. I also talk about how to compliment someone you don't like or don't know very well. It is important to see the good in everyone!
Every year I think about skipping this part of the book. It does take time and it can be frustrating, but each year, my students love reading their compliment list. I once had a mom email me over the summer about how her child read the list every day. So...I keep doing it.
In addition to the items from the time capsule, I also like to include writing samples in the memory book. Throughout the year, I save special writing assignments or projects and file them into a folder for each student. If you want to decrease your stress level, make sure to file these regularly and keep in them in order. I usually ask the math and social studies/science teacher to save some student work as well.