Guest Blogger Steven is an Associate Director of Curriculum and Instruction at The Edge. He is currently completing his dissertation about documenting and analyzing graffiti on the West Bank Wall, including student interviews and photography.
Would you rather write an essay or make a T-shirt? Most kids in middle school would rather make a t-shirt (me, too)! A fun alternative is to do both and start out the school year by creating an Autobiography T-shirt.
When I was teaching 6th grade Language Arts (which included both reading and writing), I loved beginning the year by introducing my students to the T-shirt Project. As you know, during the first week of school, it is critically important to grab your “audience’s” attention and send the message that “learning will be fun this year.” I wanted to give them an opportunity to write about their favorite topic: themselves. What better way to display writing in an “authentic task” format than on a t-shirt that your students can wear to show off their writing skills?
To inspire the students, I wanted them to read a great book to help them get started. The personal connection to the hilarious characters of Toad, Moley, Badger, and Ratty in The Wind in the Willows helped exemplify character development and personal qualities that spilled over to the students’ writing about themselves.
I usually gave a skeleton outline to my students for this project. Assigned at the beginning of the year…you want to break ‘em easy, right? These were the major topics on the outline:
1. Introduction (with the #2-5 components from below introduced briefly, the “take off”)
2. 1st “earliest” childhood accomplishment story
3. 2nd childhood success story
4. Traumatic story
5. Greatest success story
6. Conclusion (with the #2-5 components from above wrapped up briefly, the “soft landing”) and an “end with a bang” final statement or “moral of the story”
This was a really basic structure, but it worked well to assess where my students were at with their writing abilities at the beginning of the year.
Once they were finished with their rough, final and typed drafts, you can use the “flip” function in any word processing program to save the Autobiography Essay in “t-shirt ready” format (a mirror image print-out ready to be ironed on to a t-shirt). We made transfers to iron on, and then decorated the rest of the t-shirts with fabric markers and paint. When the students had all read their T-shirts / essays, we could display them hanging in my classroom (which started to look like a laundromat). It was a bit messy, but a blast and really worked well to start the year with a bang… and no one ever threw that essay out… guaranteed!!