Each year I collect samples of my student's writing throughout the year (as I am sure we all do). However, last year I realized the samples were not always a great comparison because they didn't cover similar topics/events. My solution was to collect three comparable writing samples. One at the beginning of the year, one mid-year, and one right after spring break. Each sample focused on a personal narrative of what the students did on their break. They were all written on similar paper, and it allowed parents to see growth across the year. It also gave me something concrete and easy to interpret to bring into problem-solving (RtI) meetings when I had concerns about a student's progress in writing.
At the beginning of the year, we read the story How I Spent My Summer Vacation by Mark Teague. We discuss what clues the author gives us to see if the main character's story is true or not. I also introduce exaggeration as a vocabulary word at this point. This helps lead us into our writing. As a side note, there is also a YouTube video of the story, which makes a great addition if it is a rainy day recess.
Since there are always one or two (or 5 or 10) who have trouble thinking of an idea at the beginning of the year, I tell students they can write a story about what they really did on their vacation, or they can exaggerate to make the story more interesting. They do a rough draft in their journal, independently revise & edit, and create the final draft on paper I give them. These stories are often quite interesting, but it is clear that the students aren't focused in on a specific moment. Most of the stories cover the entire summer, in fact. I print this on green paper so I can easily find it in my students' writing portfolios.
Summer Vacation Story Paper
While I do not read the story again, I collect a similar writing sample in January when students come back from break. By this point we have covered the topic of seed stories extensively. The students write a personal narrative on what they did over break, and there tend to be quite a few improvements overall. They independently follow the same steps of the writing process. I print the mid-year version on blue paper because…well, it seems winter-y.
Winter Break Story Paper
Finally, we do a sample after spring break. Again the students follow the steps of the process and come to get final draft paper from me when they are ready. I do not edit or revise any of the three samples with them because my goal is to get a true idea of where they are. These are always done and available at the spring conference.
And there you have it…an easy way to collect writing samples across the year to share.