“In a Million Words or Less, Tell Me about Your Child…”
A MiddleWeb Classic
A Million Words:
A Wonderful Activity to Connect with Parents
(Updated August 2021)
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 a 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 (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.
The teacher-parent-child relationship is an “evergreen” topic. See, for example, this 2012 article at the New York Times blog Motherlode: “When to Brief the Teacher, and When to Bite Your Tongue.” And this 2015 article by teacher (and Million Words user) Cheryl Mizerny, who shares many tips for strengthening the classroom/home connection.
In 2021, the Edutopia website made a Million Words video sourcing our background materials and featuring middle school teacher Cathleen Beachboard who highlights her use of the strategy and the payoffs she’s experienced. Cathleen is also the co-author of 10 Keys to Student Empowerment (Routledge, 2019).
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! While the original Million Words concept was conceived prior to the rise of social media and virtual platforms for parent communication, it’s easily adapted to contemporary modes of engagement.