end of year reflection · letter writing · Looking Back and Moving Forward Blog Series · reflections · Reflective Practice

End-of-Year Letters: Looking Back and Moving Forward

May 2018 Blog Series ImageEvery year, in June, I asked my fourth and fifth-grade students to write me a letter. This letter provided students with an opportunity to reflect on the school year they had in my classroom. The letter was an opportunity for them to think back about what they accomplished, what was still challenging, what field trips were useful, etc.

In a 2008 blog post, I wrote about end-of-year letters, I stated:

I’ve had my students write me letters right before I do their final report card. I’ve come to believe that these letters not only help me understand my students better, but they make me a better teacher since I learn what they liked about being a student in my class (i.e., I keep the pen box fully stocked) and what I could do better (e.g., get rid of the color-coded behavior chart).

Yes, you read that right. It’s because of a student’s advice to me that I had a wake-up call about the detriments of using a public behavior management system. As a result of what a child wrote to me in 2007, I realized I should be building kids up and using my Responsive Classroom training to help me engage my students in ways that would foster student engagement and provide positive attention.

Over the years, I developed suggestions to help students complete their end-of-year letters. I created “guidelines” since none of my students had ever been asked to reflect on their whole year – in a letter – to their teacher before. Having loose guidelines helped some of my students structure their letters to me. While many kids followed the guidelines, others let their thoughts flow.

Here are the optional end-of-year-letter guidelines I shared with my students during my final year in the classroom. (Please note: I never assigned these letters as homework. Instead, I set aside two periods of time in-school for students to complete their letters.)

Guide to End of the Year Letters to Ms. S.

Remember: Your paragraphs do not need to follow this exact structure! It’s merely a guideline to help you if you’re stuck.

  • Paragraph 1: What is your greatest accomplishment since March? Tell me why you’re proud of yourself for this accomplishment.
  • Paragraph 2: Now that we’re in June, reflect on what’s easy for you (that was challenging for you in September). Elaborate on what made this particular item/area simpler as time passed.
  • Paragraph 3: What is still challenging for you? What are you going to do to overcome this challenge?
  • Paragraph 4: What was the best part of being a 5-310 student? What was the worst part of being a 5-310 student? (Elaborate on both responses.)
  • Paragraph 5: Have you accomplished your Hopes and Dreams this year? If not, then tell me what stood in your way. If you did accomplish them, then have you set new goals for yourself?
  • Paragraph 6: What have you learned about cooperative group work/partnerships by being in this class?
  • Paragraph 7: What advice can you give me as a teacher?
  • Paragraph 8: Anything else you want to tell me.

REMEMBER: Follow a friendly letter format. If you have swirly handwriting, then please skip lines. Please sign your name in the closing of your letter.

Once I received students’ letters, I took the time to respond to each of them, by writing a letter back, before the end of the school year. While I had many other things to do, I felt it was important to respond to each child – even if my response was only a paragraph long – to show that not only did I want to celebrate their successes, but to help guide them towards next steps they could take to succeed during the summertime and the following school year.


  • How do you help your students reflect on their academic and social progress during the final weeks of school?
  • Do you ask your students for feedback or advice to help you grow your teaching practice? If so, how has a child’s feedback helped you become a better educator?


  • Day by Day Cover ImageThis giveaway is for a copy of Day by Day: Refining Writing Workshop Through 180 Days of Reflective Practice. Thanks to Stenhouse Publishers for donating a copy for one reader. (You must have a U.S. mailing address to win a print copy of this book. If you have an international address, then Stenhouse will send you an eBook of Day by Day.)
  • For a chance to win this copy of Day by Day: Refining Writing Workshop Through 180 Days of Reflective Practice, please leave a comment about this or any blog post in this blog series by Sunday, May 7th at 6:00 p.m. EDT. Melanie Meehan will use a random number generator to pick the winner’s commenter number. His/her name will be announced in the ICYMI blog post for this series on Monday, May 7th.
  • Please leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment so Melanie can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win.  From there, our contact at Stenhouse will ship the book to you. (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)
  • If you are the winner of the book, Melanie will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – DAY BY DAY. Please respond to her e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. A new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.


32 thoughts on “End-of-Year Letters: Looking Back and Moving Forward

  1. I am going to try this with my lunch groups and PBIS class. As a School Social Worker, I am always looking for creative ideas to increase reflections. Thank you!


  2. Great thoughts. I taught a 6th grade ELA class for the first time in my 30 year career. Believe you me I was learning every single day! I really do want to know what this year’s students thought was valuable and where I blew it. I’m going to incorporate this into some of the other final days projects we are working on. Thanks for the push!


  3. I love that you responded to your Ss letters! I have written letters to Ss at start of year – more like “welcome” postcards within first 2 weeks of school. I have also had Ss complete “surveys” to help me understand how to grow. Ss have written letters to incoming fourth graders. I think I might still have them write letters to incoming Ss, but will also ask them to write to me. Your guidelines will be helpful for those who still struggle to generate ideas and can be a reference for those who may need a gentle nudge or a nugget of inspiration. It’s possible that I will be able to respond to all Ss since we are in school until June 27th this year! Thanks for sharing your letter writing process!


    1. I like the idea of letters to the next class. My students did “words of wisdom,” which was a short tip to help them navigate life in my classroom. There were always a few “make sure Ms. Shubitz puts her keys in the right spot” since I was infamous for tossing them around the room.

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  4. I teach first-year composition and have my students write a letter (or do another kind of reflection) for their final exam. It teaches me a lot about them and myself/my teaching.


  5. I’m so impressed that you took the time to write to each student. I’m sure they loved your responses! 8 paragraphs would be a lot for my third graders- I’m going to think on how I can modify this because hearing from the students what worked and what didn’t would be so powerful I think!


  6. What a perfect opportunity for highly effective teachers to engage students and enhance students success ! I am excited to implement this idea with my second graders. Thank you!


  7. I love this! It is so important to have students reflect about their year. Something I have noticed about student reflection at a 4th and 5th grade level is that they write what they think you want to hear. I really take the time to tell them that I want honesty and it is to help me. Breaking down the topics for paragraphs is a great idea.


  8. What a great idea. We’re ending our year with a letter writing unit and this fits nicely. I love the Day by Day book too!


  9. This will be the perfect way for me to end a co-teaching coaching cycle with a 7th grade ELA class. The teacher and I were also learners as we taught with the Up The Ladder writing units. It’s been a year of progress through lots of small steps. I will be anxious to read the students’ thoughts!


  10. I believe we are two peas in a pod. I also had my students write to me and I’d write back to them as well. I then encouraged them to write to me during the summer and told them I’d write back if they did. I have developed some great pen pals over the years, still keeping in touch with students that are now married, working, and parents themselves. Interestingly, several (but not all) that have kept in touch with me are teachers, too. I love that! Now I’ve got my grand children writing to me because I think there is something special about writing and receiving letters-even accepting the snail mail delay. 🙂 I think you have my email but just in case, debbiehead59@yahoo.com


  11. What a great idea! I am doing this! I have gotten great verbal feedback that has changed my teaching as well. I have an policy of frank openness and I love it when my students got real with me about how I was doing.


  12. I have often written letters to my students at the end of the year and had them do some sort of reflection, but this combination of the two sounds like a great way to really show the students that I learn from them and their feedback can help make me a better teacher!


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