At the start of each year, I always do a letter writing activity with my new classes as a way to get to know them better and faster.

I also find that it helps me to remember new names, as it is so much easier when there is a story (or in this case, a letter) behind the name.

I usually start the activity by giving them a letter I had written, introducing myself and telling them a bit about my interests. By opening up to my students in a letter, to show them that I am indeed a human being, they usually feel a lot more comfortable writing back with their own personality injected into the tone of their writing.

To give the students some direction in what to include in their letter, I give them the following points to consider:

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I collect the letters at the end of the lesson and then take my time reading them throughout the day.

I write a short response to each student’s letter, highlighting things we may have in common or things that I want to know more about, and give them the responses in the next lesson.

This does take hours and hours, but the look on their faces the next day is always worth it. Sometimes a student ask if they can write a reply to my reply!

From this activity, I get a pretty good picture of a few things:

1) My student’s personality and interests
2) My student’s goals/plans (if any)
3) My student’s strengths and weaknesses
4) How my student prefers to learn
5) The student’s literacy level
6) Whether handwriting would be an issue

I can then use this information to direct my teaching from Day 1.

It is so important that all students have at least one teacher they feel comfortable approaching at school to keep them motivated in school, and this activity has always been my way of trying to build rapport with my students as soon as possible so that I can be that teacher if need be.