Back to School Writing Assignment: Setting Expectations and Forming Relationships

At the start of a school year, ideas and hopes are fresh. Capitalize on this excitement by outlining writing expectations with a manageable task: a back to school writing assignment.

We all need to know where our students fall with their writing and adjust our writing lessons accordingly. The first writing assignment of the year is important. And yes, I have asked students to write about what they did over summer break.

Truthfully? I got eye rolls, and I didn’t learn much about my students. Plus, some of my disadvantaged students didn’t do anything over summer break. The “what did you do over summer break” writing assignment didn’t foster strong relationships and overall was a flop.

I created a “Favorites” writing assignment that focused on strong topic sentence and paragraph writing. This assignment allows me to learn about students and see their writing. Here is the blueprint!

Why topic sentences?

Teachers call these magical sentences by different names, and our definitions may vary. For the purpose of this post, a topic sentence begins a body paragraph and outlines what will be in that body paragraph.

With back to school writing, I use this writing exercise to show students my expectations for their writing: complete sentences, developed thoughts, overall organized papers. Topic sentences are a small component of a large paper, but they are also part of the groundwork. The focus on topic sentences allows me to define terms and outline expectations for students.

Outline the assignment

Some students eagerly begin writing while others apprehensively approach writing assignments. Show students that with some planning, they can indeed write well. Introduce the writing assignment - students get to write about five of their favorite things. Video games, phone, book, blanket... whatever.

Then tell students that you are providing the structure for them. Stress that you are setting them up to succeed!

As a bonus, you can show your organizational processes by writing with students. I often create one of these “favorites” books to introduce myself to students.

Provide choice and structure

Yes! You can provide both. Give students enough of a structure (“favorites”), but provide them with a way to showcase their uniqueness. Students will have a variety of topics.

These topics turn easily into topic sentences. This back to school writing assignment sets the tone for the school year: you want students to have structure, but you are also invested in their individuality.

Model the writing process

I walk through this back to school writing assignment with students. This opportunity happens once a year. I don't want confused students!

Brainstorm with students. What sort of “things” are favorites? TV shows, appetizer, game, song, artist... show students that the more they think and brainstorm, the easier their writing will be later. I normally complete this together as a class.

Then ask students to narrow their favorites to five - individually.

Next, it is time for the first draft - five topic sentences. I always ask students to create a variety of topic sentences (definition, question). We do some of this together. Students should provide support for each topic sentence: explain why this is a favorite.

Once students have their drafts, ask them to revise together. Set your expectations! All ideas should relate to the topic sentence. The sentences should be complete, interesting - you decide what your class needs.

Then we edit. Again, this stage depends largely on your student population. Sometimes I need to do a quick lesson on confusing words. Other times, we can focus on comma placement.

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Final drafts

I create five digital covers for student choice on their final product. These professional covers also add to the “published” feeling.

Showcasing finished “favorites” is the best part of this assignment! Ask students to share one with the class. Hang them in the hallway. Complete a gallery walk. These are perfect for back to school night! More than anything, students have a successful back to school writing assignment.

Feel free to follow this blueprint for your back to school writing activities. If you’d like task cards, an editable lesson plan, and all activities mentioned here, check out the “Favorites” Back to School Writing Assignment.

Lauralee Moss is a full-time high school English teacher in Illinois. She writes at Language Arts Classroom. Her first book is due out in September 2018. 

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