If you download or print anything from this site, please consider making at least a $10.00 donation through PayPal.
I can maintain and expand this website only with your help.

penDuring my forty-five years of teaching I have always had students write autobiographically, and that writing has grown broader, deeper, more intense, and more fun.If I assigned it, I, too, wrote it. In several schools that autobiography became an annual year long project that all sophomores completed, even in other teachers’ classes.Their collaboration changed the nature of the project, introducing assignments that were challenging and difficult -- for me. Topics and types I would never have chosen because they were not my natural style. I would begin with the Personal Alphabet on the first day of school, and I would learn more about each student than any placement test, essay prompt, or form ould possibly produce. Almost all are one-pagers.

Writing Portfolio




Download as Word document or Adobe PDF. Checklist for Grading. Booklet Version (legal size paper).
The online version of specific assignments links tyhe title to a sample (written by me)


To: Other Teachers Considering the Autobiography Portfolio Assignments

The Autobiography Portfolio eventually became a requirement for all sophomores in my large suburban high school - so half a dozen teachers each handled it differently. The online version has more actual assignments that each of us usually required. I liked for my kids to do 35 -- five of which were complete free choice, not included in the many listed. Other teachers chose only 25 and might even specify each one.

I worked on the project from the first day of school until they were due in the spring. For example, I would have my kids do the “Personal Alphabet” and the “Likes and Dislikes” the very first day of school and turn it in. I would look over it and return it with misspelled words noted or questions added and tell them to put it some place safe since they would need it for their final draft. I might never mention it again. Except that I would use the assignment as a prompt for literary responses. You know, “Create a Personal Alphabet for Julius Caesar or Scout Finch, etc.”

Other teachers might chose to work on nothing but the portfolio for a few weeks -- an assignment in class, another for homework, writing groups for revision, etc. Some teachers even scheduled computer lab time during the last week for final draft production and would even bind the final copies in class.

I think you need to find what works best for you and for your kids.

More specific answers follow --

I expected my kids to revise so each original assignment was prepared just like a regular assignment, heading and all. I didn't require typing of the rough draft, but we spent some time talking about how much easier the final draft would be if they typed the rough draft and then revised it.

As I mentioned above, I use the assignments where they fit my own purposes. The “Personal Recipe” would be done just before Open House so I had wall-to-wall student writing for parents to admire. It makes sense to pick the assignments which fit your purposes and use them as you need them. One reason I have so many to choose from is because I have added and subtracted over the years, based on suggestions from other teachers and from students. One reason it is available as a Word document is so that other teachers can modify as needed.

By the time my kids are preparing the final draft, we’ve spent some time talking about fonts and illustrations and even paper choices. I want this to be something they will treasure, so I felt they should get to personalize it some; however, I have to grade it so the choices they made had to enhance, not mar the readability. I never write on their portfolio -- all comments and notes are on post-its and I use the smallest ones so I won’t get all wordy myself. And they can discard my comments when I return it -- it is theirs, not mine.

My NUMBER ONE suggestion to you is that you should create your own portfolio with your students, or before your students, if this is a first time effort. I have nearly 30 of my own to chronicle my own years and I know how time-consuming this can be. I was always a few assignments ahead of my kids, but not always very many. You will notice that I have links to my writing online, but I had several of my own portfolios in class for kids to read as well. Over the years, I also spent the big bucks and photocopied (even in color) some of the best student ones.

The online version of specific assignments links each assignment to my own response. Doing the assignments yourself puts the whole project in perspective and has made me a more thoughtful, reflective writer -- sharing my own responses has made me a more sensitive, humble reader (grader).

typewriterAnother important suggestion - if you expect your kids to type their portfolios, spend some time talking about how to name and save files. I strongly suggest that they file each assignment separately - 35 documents, not one long one. I also suggest that they print drafts as they go, use hard copies for writing group, or initial revision, revise, then print again. I also suggested that they back up and keep two copies, one on floppy or jump drive, one on a hard drive or personal folder on our server. Computer failure is NOT an excuse for missing the final deadline.

One of the best days we had all year was the day when each student presented their cover and title - hopefully in final draft form, but I would accept an idea in progress. It gave kids a chance to learn from others who might be more creative. I never got another “My Portfolio” or “My Life” once I started that. I would get Valerie Queen’s Queen of Hearts or Tim McCoy’s The Real McCoy, even a BrainstormConfessions of Susan Smith, etc. Check out this small movie of my own Portfolio covers over the years for a laugh.

I can’t tell you how rewarding this assignment became for all our students. Parents and kids mention it every time we meet. I was amazed that several other subject teachers were doing the assignments for themselves. Our French teacher would assign some of them as writing assignments in French and then I’d get them back as Free Choice options later. I even had a principal who was diagnosed with a terminal illness who completed the portfolio as a present for his young son, just so he could share some of himself after he was gone. Fortunately, I have attended few student funerals, but I have heard parents and pastors read something they found especially moving or representative.

Even years later, I can still draw upon the Portfolio experience. I used it in various forms for nearly 40 years. It was even more fun to use the same assignments as “exam” questions on various novels. The kids did such a good job writing Holden Caulfield’s “Personal Alphabet” or King Arthur’s “Likes and Dislikes.” My AP seniors read Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. Their final exam was to draw a number and then write that Portfolio assignment as if they were the narrator. We put everything together, bound it, and now I have portfolios by Invisible Man, Holden Caulfield, Scoiut Finch, Beowulf, John Savage, and more. I usually asked for a volunteer to design a cover and title for extra credit so I have some true masterpieces.

Let me know how your experience goes and feel free to contact me if you have more questions as you go.

Please note that there is a Grading Checklist at the end of the Portfolio download. There is also now a version you can download that will print as a booklet version on legal sized paper, two-sided. The online version of specific assignments links each assignment to my response.

Sandra Effinger

What is a Portfolio?

Portfolio is partly based on the Latin folium, meaning “leaf, sheet.” A portfolio usually represents a portable showcase of your talents. Today’s portfolio is a collection of accomplishments and work in an area of talent/interest you have pursued. Sometimes used as entrance requirements for a program, portfolios can also play a significant role in assessment. The portfolio might include:

  • art work: drawing, painting, photography, graphic art
  • musical composition: scores, song lyrics, arrangements
  • writing: novels; screen plays; poetry; history; news articles; scientific research, both published and unpublished
  • performance art: vocals – choral, solo, scat; musical – bands, orchestras, paid gigs, solos; and theatrical – theater, comedy, storytelling

The portfolio gives a sampling of your talent and the type of work you take an interest in doing. When you create a student portfolio, it will also demonstrate your strengths and growth as an artist or performer. The portfolio goes beyond a transcript, recommendation, test score, college interview, or even an essay to show what you are doing and to attest to the commitment you have to your area of interest.

A portfolio is a compilation of work that has been put together for a specific purpose, and generally includes reflection on the whole. According to the required First-Year Writing Portfolio at Spelman University: “Strong portfolios are built through a process of collection, selection, and reflection. In other words, the portfolio is more than just a showcase of your work; it is a location in which you make judgments about how best to present yourself as an academic writer, and in which you provide reflections that help you and your readers better understand how the portfolio was developed.”


If you download or print anything from this site, please consider making at least a $10.00 donation through PayPal.
I can maintain and expand this website only with your help.

Back to Assignments or Home.
Updated 25 June 2022.



Directions Assignments Directions Assignments