Bear with me, because this post is about an end-of-the-year project. Yes, I know. It’s July, and as those “Back to School” nightmares creep into your sleep the last thing you are thinking about is the end of next school year.
However, I thought this entry could be helpful, because it’s about establishing a yearlong autobiography project.
This is something I tried to start my first year of teaching, because the concept sounded so wonderful. Having my kids create personal works that they could reflect on as the year progressed? Sign me up! However, it took years of trial and error before I found a method that made this project work for me.
To save you the time, I compiled a list of tips to help you establish a year long autobiography project in your own classroom. At the end of the post is a freebie (the overview and table of contents I use with my own classes), and a link to purchase my entire project (all entry projects and rubrics included!) from my TpT store.
1. Introduce the concept at the beginning of the year.
My Mistake: The first year I tried this I was a first year teacher. So, obviously I didn’t actually get to any point when I could pause and take a break and introduce a project like this until November.
At that point, the students were confused like they always are when you try to establish a new routine. They didn’t buy into it, and I dropped it.
What I Learned: Start right away with introducing this project to your kids. On the first day of school, tell them that throughout the year they will be working on entries that they will eventually compile to create their own autobiography. It can help to have student samples or autobiographies from famous people around your room as inspiration.
Teacher Tip: I introduce this on the very first day of school, and use my ice breaker as the “August Entry!” This way, I take care of two things at once. For my August entry, I use a type of “Get to know me” survey or my “Back to School Inventory.“
2. Plan Monthly Entries
My Mistake: At first, I would get really excited and have my students complete multiple entries in one week. This was overkill, and by the time the week ended the kids were conditioned to cringe whenever I mentioned “Autobiography Project.” Not a good start for a yearlong project.
However, spacing out entries too much or making them too sporadic means its easier for the students (and you!) to forget about them all together.
What I Learned: I realized that having students complete one entry each month was perfect for both them and myself. It was frequent enough to establish a routine (students would ask me what the entry topic was for the month because it was something they were used to), but it wasn’t so repetitive that it caused resentment.
3. Make Entries Unique but Guided
My Mistake: When I started trying to incorporate an autobiography project, I figured I would give my students free reign to create whatever “entries” they wanted. Great in theory, not so great in real life. The students needed some guidance, and I was having trouble grading haiku after haiku after haiku.
What I Learned: I created mini projects for students to complete each month based around these concepts:
- What were we learning about? I tried to connect each entry project to one of our themes, stories, or essential questions.
- Example: When we read “The Book Thief,” in which the narrator Death connects colors to events, I created a project called “Color Collage” where students connect a color to one of their own memories, then describe it using figurative phrases which they glue onto a color collage.
- How can I make it personal? It was important to me that the students feel a connection to these entries, so for each project I made sure the focus was personal. They were writing about their own memories, life expectations, fears or insights – NOT expository essays or informational writing.
- What have we done already? I didn’t repeat a project style once throughout the year. This was really tough, and some months I struggled to find a creative way for my students to express themselves. However, I did realize that mediums could be used in different ways. For example, there are a few entries that require students to write poems, but for each entry the poem topic and style is very different.
4. Grade Each Month
My Mistake: The first time I tried this I fell for the trap of “This is fantastic, I don’t have to do any grading until May!” Well, May rolled around and I was swamped with 15 page autobiographies that needed grades before the year ended.
Also, my students’ missed getting immediate feedback. It’s human nature to want validation on your work, and by not grading each entry individually, I was taking that way from my students.
What I learned: I created rubrics for each entry that I used for grading each month. These are common core aligned and require more meticulous attention. After I graded each entry, the students got them back. After reviewing my comments and notes, they would put them into their “Autobiography Folder” that I kept in a crate in the classroom.
Teacher Tip: I used post-its or pencil when grading these, so students could easily bind them in their final autobiography project in May without having to re-type or re-print every entry.
In May, they took all of these final copies out and compiled them into one book. If an entry had gotten a low score or looked really messy or wasn’t their best work, they could redo it. Otherwise, it was already in final draft form and ready for them to bind together in a publication.
FREE DOWNLOAD: To grade their final publication, I used this Autobiography Assignment. You can see that the grading is much more lenient – after all, I already did all of the hard grading throughout the year! That makes going through these in May a breeze.
Have fun leading your students through their own self-exploration this year!
Looking to do this project without having to create all of the journal entries? Buy my project here and get all of my entries and rubrics!