Monday, June 18, 2012

The Perfect Gift

Back in the fall of 1991 I was a brand new middle school teacher.  I had left a two year gig as a high school English teacher which I loved, but felt called to work with middle schoolers.  In any case, my mentor teacher ( they didn't have such a program then, but she graciously took me under her wing) shared with me a beginning of the year writing activity she did with her 8th grade language arts students called The Perfect Gift.  Now, I have no idea where she got this;  as creative as my dear friend Deanna was, she probably came up with this herself.

In any case, I used this idea all 14 years I taught middle school and have even used it with the fourth, fifth, and sixth grade reading/language arts students I have taught- all with success!  This activity has been tweaked to death and I recently gave it a massive face lift!  Click on the picture below to see the listing for this packet in my TPT store.

Write to Inform Prompt from the packet

I absolutely love using this activity as the beginning of the year.  The Perfect Gift is a beginning of the year writing activity that promotes self-reflection, goal setting, and can be used as an assessment of writing skills.  In fact, I used it as a beginning of the year writing assessment before we were required to administer a specific, county-wide one.

Students are asked to write what a perfect gift would be for them to have a successful year. The gift is to be an abstract noun such as bravery, patience, kindness, responsibility, joy, honesty, creativity, self-control, self-confidence, humor etc.  Since I am now teaching in a Christian school, prayer and faithfulness also appear on the list. 

The first day I bring in a huge gift-wrapped box that always gets the students' attention and is used as my "hook".  Students get so excited when I tell them that I have a gift for them and they start guessing what it could be.  Imagine their shock when I throw the present on the floor!  This is my intro into abstract nouns... I pass the box around so they can shake it, just to make sure it is empty!  We discuss concrete and abstract nouns and the way I teach these is to tell them that if they can place the item in the box, then it is most likely a concrete noun.
Mini-poster/anchor chart

This activity involves the whole writing process and gives me a glimpse not only of students' writing strengths and needs, but also tells me about who they are:  their personality, fears, learning styles, and needs.  Students write about the gift, what it is, why they want/need it, and how it will help them.  At the end they design a cover page or can use the gift box template to decorate and use as a topper for their published piece.

By the end of the first week of school, I always feel like I have learned so much about my students from a social, emotional, cognitive, and spiritual perspective.  And usually I  learn something new about myself too!

I keep the gift box visible in the classroom the entire year.  Students revisit this writing at the end of each marking period and reflect on whether they have "received" their gift yet.  This is how I introduce them to goal setting during the first marking period. 

Check it out and let me know what you think and whether you and your students would benefit!

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.  James 1:17

Have a blessed week!


  1. Hi Lauren~
    I am so glad that you stopped by my little blog! I look forward to following you! :)
    Jen's Kinder Kids

  2. You are quite welcome! I adore your blog, and it is an honor to have you following me!


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