“In a Million Words or Less, Tell Me about Your Child…”

A MiddleWeb Classic

A Million Words:
A Wonderful Activity to Connect with Parents

The Million Words activity basically works this way: In the first month or so of school, the teacher asks parents to tell you about their child, in “a million words or less.”

Sounds simple – and it can be very powerful – but as you’ll see in this MiddleWeb Classic conversation from 2003, there are many permutations. Fortunately for all of us who want to try this idea, this particular MiddleWeb listserv chat was populated by a group of insightful folks, many of whom had tried the Million Words tool — and in a variety of different school settings and contexts.

We’ve captured the conversation in this MiddleWeb Million Words Resource file (PDF). Feel free to download it, check out the links, look at the sample teacher letter at the end, and visit the Education World page where our chat and other related activities are considered.

What teachers need to know about students was still generating discussion in 2012.  In “When to Brief the Teacher, and When to Bite Your Tongue,” the NYT’s Motherlode posts experiences and recommendations from both parents and teachers. Some comments may make you smile while others may trigger a furrowed brow. Our take-away is this: Many parents want to tell teachers about the things that make their children unique. This activity can open that door for them!

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8 Responses

  1. Love this! We started school last week, and I gave my parents a homework assignment as well! My parents had to email me back with 5 adjectives that described their child. They love to brag, and had a hard time stopping at 5! I wish I had seen this first.. although I learned a fair bit in 5 adjectivesl! :)

  2. Molly Wolf says:

    I’ve seen this idea before and have always found it both fascinating and a bit scary at the same time.
    Has anyone got a copy of the letter they send out to the parents that has worked well within their school that you’d be willing to share?
    Thank you.

  3. MiddleWeb says:

    There’s one sample letter in the PDF file, at the very end. And in the conversation transcript, several folks talk about what they put in the letter. There’s also some thoughtful discussion about what not to say and how to keep this activity positive and sensitive to the many situations that students live in.

    We also highly recommend the Education World article that’s based in part on our MW conversation:
    http://www.educationworld.com/a_curr/profdev/profdev080.shtml

    We’d love to hear about other letters – please post here in the comments or share a link to your own blog or file. Just paste the link in and we’ll make it active (or you can code it if you know how!).

  4. paul bogush says:

    Here is one I give to kids http://goo.gl/4lJK7 and one for parents http://goo.gl/PXiaU, and their answer does not always have to be written http://goo.gl/AZImCY

  5. MiddleWeb says:

    We spotted several tweets about this activity when we mentioned it (as an ‘oldie but a goodie’) on Twitter yesterday. Julie Bauer (@jbteachr) said that “I’ve been using this for YEARS! I save them and review periodically throughout the year. Each submission is a treasure!” And Rhonda Deighton (@mardieteach) wrote: “Maybe an oldie, but I just heard about this a couple of years ago, & have used it since. I learn so much & parents love it 2.”

  6. Patty Webb says:

    I have done this for about 6 years now — I teach Middle School English.
    The responses are incredible. Parents, guardians, or grandparents either email, write, or dictate to me what they want to say. The love, concern, caring that this letter evokes regardless who is writing is overwhelming. I learn so much about the child, adult, family situation that it may be the single best thing I do for a child when I request this. Children are so excited when they bring the letters in. I actually shared the last year’s letters with students’ next year teacher this time to thread the understanding that I achieved to the new teacher.

  1. 09/04/2012

    [...] The Million Words tool works this way: In the first month of school, the teacher asks parents to tell you about their child, in a million words or less.  [...]

  2. 09/04/2012

    [...] (typeof(addthis_share) == "undefined"){ addthis_share = [];}“A Million Words”: A Wonderful Tool to Connect with Parents is a nice idea and resource from [...]

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