I wanted my students to get something out of the end of the year. Frankly, we were all bored! I randomly decided to have my 8th graders write a letter to themselves. I asked them to reflect on who they are, their year, and what they were looking forward to in their freshman year. I had them address envelopes to themselves, and insert the letter. The letters were completely confidential.
About 6 weeks into the next school year, I pulled out the envelopes. I wrote a quick note to each of my students on their envelope, stamped them and dropped them in the mailbox. In the month following, I had a lot of visitors from my previous year. Some former students just swung by to thank me; others stopped and shared parts of their letters, at times laughing over their fears or worries about freshman year; and others just came to say "hi" and chat about what was going on in their lives. What I realized was that the entire experience was valuable for my students.
Since that year, I have taught several grade levels, and every year I do the end of year letter with my students regardless of their age. I have formalized the activity a bit more, scaffolding in ideas about reflection about themselves and adding a "self-portrait" art project along with the letter. I do different art projects depending on the students and the grade level. We've held the world in our hands, been inspired by great artists and even gone digital.
The activity continues to be a big hit with my students regardless of the grade level. I always get a thank you. I can't wait to do the project again this year. It is truly a gift to my students that they always appreciate.