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 essay prompt:
In a million words or less, tell me something interesting or fabulous about yourself that I would otherwise never know. This can relate to school and/or your personal life. Feel free to share your passions, your dreams, your goals, your fears, your strengths, your weaknesses—anything that might help me to know you, teach you, and communicate with you more effectively.
I always tell my kids they are free to write a million words or opt for the "or less" option. They get a kick out of it, and I've yet to receive a million word essay--Thank goodness! This assignment simultaneously serves as an initial formative writing assessment.
The second variation is a similar essay prompt for parents. (Available via my shop home page.) Students love hearing their parents have homework on the first day of school instead of them. I always offer students the option to respond to the prompt themselves if parents or guardians cannot.
The parent 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.
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