Every year, I begin the first day of school by having students make table tents with their preferred names on them. Then, they begin to read a letter from me that is sitting on their desks. I introduce myself, and then students use my letter as a model to write one to me. I give them no guidelines and no length requirements; students tell me what they want me to know and write as much as they want to write in 15 minutes.
This serves several purposes. I have a student writing sample that is an excellent baseline for their writing portfolios. I am also able to see who immediately gets down to the task at hand, who is reluctant, who searches for more guidelines, who asks for spelling help, who writes little and who writes a great deal. I am also able to gather information about the students on their first day and what they deem is important enough for me to know immediately.
In this document, you will find the materials that I use for this assignment on the first day. Included is my sample letter for you to edit to suit yourself, a student instruction sheet, and a student sheet for them to write on. I have removed the identifying information from my sample letter, but I have left other elements in so you have an idea of what I convey to students. In the past, I have had students use their own paper, but this often leads to many discussions about their supplies, and I want to focus to be on the letter at this point. I find that several students want to continue to work after time is up, so I collect their letters to me and afford them the opportunity to work for a few more minutes at the beginning of class on the second day of school. This helps to ease some of the anxiety related to not completing their work in the manner they see fit.