There's nothing more priceless than the look on your students' faces when you announce on the first day of school that their first homework assignment is a million word essay....The room goes silent, hearts skip and beat, and horrified glances are exchanged.
Then, after you hand out the essay prompt and read it aloud, you feel the palpable wave of relief wash over the room as they realize their new teacher is not, in fact, a sadist, but instead has a slightly twisted sense of humor. The "homework" is actually for parents or guardians, and the million word essay actually asks for a million word "or less."
The essay prompt:
In a million words or less, tell me something interesting or fabulous about your student that I would otherwise never know. This can relate to school and/or personal life and might pertain to passions, dreams, health, goals, fears, strengths, weaknesses—anything that might help me to know, communicate with, and serve your student more effectively.
The second variation is a similar essay prompt for students. (Available free via my shop home page.) Often, for one reason or another, parents or guardians are not able to participate, so students always have the option of responding to the prompt themselves.
This assignment has proven year after year to be a remarkable communication tool that's ideal to use across a broad age range, easily 4th-12th grades. I give bonus points or some other creative enticing incentive to ensure the essays are all returned.
My experience has been that it's most beneficial to read them once, right after they are returned, and then again a few weeks into the school year. With so many students and new faces, it's easy to read them the first time and not remember the face that goes with the name. But after you get to know your kids a bit, you'll read their essays a second time from an entirely different perspective.
*WORD FILE ALSO AVAILABLE. JUST EMAIL ME @ firstname.lastname@example.org
Keywords: introductory activities, ice-breakers, first day activities, middle school activities, high school activities, parent communication