After I complete the lesson I give to my students on the first day of school, I give my students a business letter in full block format in which I request information about them ranging from what their home situation is like to their favorite stories to their biggest fears in school. This assignment is due the first Friday we have class (which means my weekend is full of letters).
My reason for giving this assignment is initially three-fold. I obviously get a sense of my students’ lives individually and collectively, and I now have an initial writing sample from which I determine the writing skills we need to practice. Plus, I immediately discover which students can follow directions and who chooses write to completion (or incompletion, as the case may be).
On the Friday when the students turn in their letters, I have them partner up with someone at least five large steps away and share any number of pieces of information in an informal interview. Sometimes I have them share a strength and weakness in English or share 2-3 hobbies or any other items of personal note. Then the students introduce their partners to the class. If I’m ambitious, I add a transitions exercise in there where the students have to use at least two transition words or phrases while introducing the partner.
For example, a presentation may be something like this: “This is Timmy who just moved here from Colorado. Although he enjoys playing his saxophone, he does not enjoy playing it in the marching band; however, he does enjoy being in the student symphony.”
In two or three class periods we have completed the following:
- a writing sample,
- an introduction of the students to me,
- an informal interview,
- a mini-class presentation, and
- an exercise on transitions.
I also learn the following:
- what my students’ lives are like, their interests, and their fears;
- who turns in work on time (or early);
- what writing skills need to be practiced;
- who follows directions well;
- what speaking skills need to be practiced;
- who can mimic a letter format (follow a visual); and
- who is willing to exceed or meet a standard as well as who does the minimum–or less than the minimum.
I like this start to the year. It works for me, and the kids remain engaged while shifting activities with physical movement.