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Alphabetical Advice

Today I want to share with you an idea I’m calling “Alphabetical Advice.” 

alphabetical advice activity

Do you ever find that you have ideas at the totally wrong time of the year?  That just happened to me.  I’m supposed to be thinking about the new school year coming up soon, and I’m already thinking about how I want my students to reflect at the end of the school year.  The end of the school year that hasn’t even started yet!  Oh my…

For the past few years, I’ve had my students write letters of advice to future students taking the class.  I’ve liked this assignment for a few reasons.  It gets kids writing.  They need to write more.  I need to make them write more.  It gets kids reflecting on what they did well and what they could have done a better job of.  It gives me feedback about what students honestly think about my classes.  Their letters make me simultaneously laugh and cry.  Plus, I get to use their letters to let the next year’s group of students know what to expect.  Students love hearing advice from other students.

There are a few things about the assignment that have always frustrated me, though.  Often, one student would say something aloud during the writing of their letter, and that thing would show up in seven other letters.  Then, there are always the kids who try to get away with writing in huge letters to take up as much space as possible while writing as little as possible.  Reading through their responses to find the best advice to share with future students is time consuming.

So, I’ve decided to change things up for this next year.  I am going to have each class compile their own list of advice as a collaborative effort.  This will make the conversations that occur worthwhile instead of frustrating.  I’m taking away the length requirement.  And, I’m adding in the alphabet.  Each class will compile a list of 26 pieces of advice for future students taking the class.  Each piece of advice must begin with a different letter of the alphabet.  I’m hoping this promotes students to be a bit more creative.

Alphabetical Advice

To start, I’m going to give each student in the class a paper titled, “Alphabetical Advice.”  I’ll set a timer for 10 or 15 minutes to let students come up with ideas on their own.  This will be silent work time.  Then, the class will come together for the rest of the 50 minute period to compile one list as a class.  I think I’ll let them do this on the computer/SMART Board to allow for easy editing.

Then, the part I’m most excited for: I’m going to take the compiled lists from my 3 Algebra 1 classes and pick my favorite piece of advice for each letter of the alphabet.  These 26 sentences will be put together in a fun slideshow to show at the beginning of the next school year.  I’ll do the same thing with my 2 Algebra 2 classes.

I’m sure there are other uses for this form as well.  If you can think of one, leave it in the comments!

Free Download of Alphabetical Advice 


Alphabetical Advice (PDF) (249 downloads)


Alphabetical Advice (Editable Publisher File ZIP) (168 downloads)

For the editable file, you will need to download these free fonts: HVD Comic Serif Pro and Caviar Dreams.

Update (May 2016): I did this activity with my students!

My motivation to blog lately has been pretty non-existant.  There’s a couple of things I could blame it on.  Being busy and  (Think: state testing and finishing up my action research project so I can graduate with my master’s in a couple of weeks) being out of my routine at work.  (Think: keeping students busy after state testing and packing up my classroom to prepare to move our stuff this week to a different building for next year.)

Grad school will be done in two weeks. (SO excited about this one!)  My fourth year of teaching will be over in ten days. (Where in the world has the time gone?)  It’s time to get back to blogging.  Therefore, I’ve decided I’m going to participate in the #MTBoS30 challenge.  (If you haven’t heard about it, a bunch of MTBoSers are planning to blog a bunch–30 times to be exact.)  Over the next 30 days, I am going to try to blog once per day.  It’s time to start reflecting on this year and start thinking about changes that I want to see happen next year.  I’ve started reading more in the past week or so, so I want to share some of my recent reads with you, too.

Today, I want to share an end-of-year project I did with my students this year.  It’s an idea I had and blogged about back in August of this school year.  It’s a good thing I blogged about it because I would have totally forgotten about it otherwise.  The idea was to have my students write a piece of advice to future students starting with each letter of the alphabet.  The best advice for each letter would be compiled and shared with the next year’s classes.  

I’d forgotten about this idea until I was searching for something on my blog the other day and it popped up in the search results.  I printed off the sheets and handed to them to my students to work on during one class period after state testing was over.  

I experimented doing this activity several different ways.  With my first few classes, I had them compile their answers in groups and then vote to decide which group had the best answer.  This just led to a lot of unnecessary arguing and really got on my nerves.  For the rest of the day, I had students just complete the sheets on their own.  I ended up going through and picking out what I thought was the best pieces of advice.  

So, here is the advice my students would give future students: 

Creative Undertakings

Thursday 6th of August 2015

That's a cool idea! I like it :)

Anisa @ Creative Undertakings

Sarah Carter (@mathequalslove)

Friday 18th of September 2015

Thanks Anisa!

Mrs. C

Tuesday 4th of August 2015

Hi Sarah! This is my first time commenting but I have read everything you have posted and stolen many ideas from you. I have contemplated my own blog and have registered a space but haven't pulled the trigger on posting yet.

As a 7th grade math teacher, I could see using this alphabet idea to assess students' prior knowledge (math words or phrases for each letter) or a measure of their attitudes about math (like the mind map idea). Keep up the great work and keep the posters coming!! :-)

Sarah Carter (@mathequalslove)

Wednesday 5th of August 2015

Love these ideas! Also - thanks for reading my blog, and I think you should definitely start blogging! Send me a link when you do so I can follow along! :D