One Word: A [end of year or beginning] Writing Challenge

Image Via_ Pinterest

It’s the end of the year.  We all are ready to pack up this year and move on. But if you are like me I love wrapping up my year with bows and ribbons. This rarely happens and I have had to over the years let go of finishing every project we start. 

One thing I make time for is allow for my students to reflect on their year. 

Do you need some practical ways to help your students reflect in a meaningful way in any subject areas? Here is an idea below. This idea also can be book marked for the beginning of the year too when you are goal setting as well.

One Word Challenge 

Image Via_ Jamie Avery Pate

[ First introduction] 

There is a trending activity going around replacing New Year’s Resolutions with “One Word” Resolutions. At first glance I thought that this activity would be hokey. I had a colleague excitedly share it with me. I was hesitant at first… but I will admit that the activity ended up being life giving. 

The instructions told us we needed to have students pick one word to work on or embrace for the 2021 year. Step one already had me confused. Why do we ask kids to just come up with things off the top of their head without strong mentor texts? Where does this idea come from to think that our students just know how and what to write at all times. As I sit here at my desk I am still baffled at all the writing education I received that did not have direct instruction before.

We started our morning meeting with a class chat on resolutions. We came up with a list (shouting out ideas) of what are some resolutions (commitments to change) that people make every year. We then had a quick debate on whether or not we think most people keep these resolutions. My writing project chapter chair Beth sent a great lesson on argument writing: do people keep resolutions… which I was drawn too.. but more on that later which could totally be added next year.

I introduce the One Word challenge. 

Mentor Texts 

I found a couple different lists on the internet of words that could be used for our one word challenge. Students took the lists and with a partner read through them. I had the students do some annotating on the side of the paper. Which ideas sounded good, which words confused them, and which ones they would never use. From there we generated a list of words all together. I had my students record that list in their notebook. 

I then made my students narrow down the list to three words that interested them. I did this also to model the process. I gave my students 3 minutes each to write down what that word meant to them and how they would use that word in 2021. From there I had students decide which word they felt most comfortable with and wanted to commit to– students turned and talked about their words and asked advice on what they would do. 

I was so worried students wouldn’t be able to pick a word… or that this lesson was a little too much out of their framework. But my students’ reflection on their words were magical. They were deep and thoughtful. A lesson I thought was going to be stupid actually turned out reflective and bonding. I think if I would have just given the students a paper and told them to write it would have been a flop. Just again goes to show that examples and lots of turns and talk can really help writers with ideas. (I know it does me.) 

Fast Forward to May Reflection 

Image Via_ Roxanne Patruznick

My students and I brought back the one word challenge. Students came up with a list of words to describe the 2020-2021 school year. We made a list of words: from Masks, Quarantine, to more inside jokes. 

We went through and voted. Crossing off the least popular.

Our class one word: Unpredictable 2020-2021. 

And a whole mentor text list of words to choose from.

Tree Rings 

Image Via_ Ethan Harper

I took our one word a step farther and stole an idea given to me by a fellow Writing Project friend which she does with her kindergarteners. 

Tree Rings. 

Tree Rings tell a story of a tree’s life. I am sure you know this so I won’t belabor the point but what would be tree rings say from our year? Is the question I asked my student’s after thinking through our one word challenge. 

Together students worked to come up with a list of memories, challenges, and wonderful parts of their school year. I had students come up with 5-10 memories for their tree rings. 

At the beginning of the year I want to bring this back, maybe choosing One Word as our class word at the beginning of the school year. I think this could make a great connection to PBIS and the classroom community. What do we want to commit towards as a common collective to be better this ____ school year? This could also tie into project based learning projects. How could this word actually become reality in our own classroom and how can that be tied to math, science, reading and writing… One Word doesn’t need just to be a year resolution but maybe a mind framework. 

My kiddos tree rings

Please reach out with questions, reflections, and connections in the comments below or on Twitter @Mrsablund. Check out my other articles writing out of the ELA classroom.

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  1. “Beth R. sent a great lesson on argument writing: do people keep resolutions… ” Is this in reference to another post? Where can we find this information? Is there a link?

    1. Hey L! Beth is my colleague at the Ohio Writing Project. There isn’t a previous post about this but in the winter we came up with a list of ideas on how to jumpstart the year with writing. If you would like some more info send me an email at and I would love to connect.

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