Assigning Writing in the Beginning of the School Year

Assigning Writing in the Beginning of the School Year
The first week back to school is usually pretty hectic. From getting back in the swing of things to preparing for the first day and all of the back-to-school activities, and learning 100+ new student names, there is a lot to do. And almost every single year it seems like your back-to-school list grows faster than you can check things off.

In the midst of all of the back-to-school chaos, there is something that you, as a secondary teacher, should do: get your students writing! But I teach science/math/physical education, you say. You should still have your students write something for you in the first week of school.

Regardless of the content you teach, there are two reasons why it is essential to have your students write at the beginning of the year.

1. Assess their writing ability
Looking at and analyzing your students’ writing can tell you quite a bit about each individual student as well as your class as a whole. Which students have a firm understanding of the English language? Which students struggle with piecing words together to form a coherent sentence? Who are the students who lack focus and organization in his or her writing? Even if you teach a subject that doesn’t focus on writing, understanding and knowing your students’ writing abilities is helpful because writing ability and reading level correlate with one another. If some of your secondary students have difficulty writing a sentence that is grammatically sound, chances are they might have a difficult time understanding the textbook or directions for more complicated processes.

2. Get to know your students better
Within the first week of school with a new class, I like to assign a personal narrative essay to my students. One of the main reasons why I do this is that I want to get to know all of my students on a deeper level. When I read their personal narratives at the beginning of the year, I learn something about each and every single one of my students. To help me remember the personal narratives, I like to read/grade them with a set of my class rosters. After I read each narrative, I like to write several words by each of their names to help me get to know and remember them better.

I will always remember the opening line of a first day of school personal narrative that one of my former students wrote. He wrote, “Everything I’ve learned about life I’ve learned through sickness.” In his emotionally raw and telling narrative, he wrote about his struggles with and triumph over pediatric cancer. By assigning writing at the beginning of the school year, you give your students a chance to share their voices with you. That’s powerful.

There are two assignments I like to give my students toward the beginning of the year: one is a personal narrative assignment and the other is a personal statement assignment. By assigning these types of writings at the beginning of the year, I’ve learned so much from my students.