Gift Of Words


This post is by Joe Stephens


In my other life I’m a teacher, as you can tell from many of my posts. I enjoy that job because I love being around young people. Some of the experiences I’ve had with them over the years will live with me forever and I have many lifelong friends among my former students.

Some lessons and activities I’ve done a time or two, while others have happened every year without fail because they just work so well that they

Poonam Jenna
Sometimes former students become family instead of friends.

become tradition. One of the most memorable activities we do every year is the Gift of Words presentation right before Christmas break. I can’t take credit for it. Like much of what I learned about teaching AP English, I got this from Dan and Becky Daniel, my mentors.


It’s really a multi-faceted activity, but the heart of it is asking the students to share gifts of words with others. The idea is that, in these modern times, we tend to think of a gift as something we buy for someone, but one of the greatest gifts we could ever give someone we love is the gift of words from our hearts. So my kids write a sonnet to a loved one as well as a letter. Then, in class on the last couple of days before break, they share a gift of words that they’ve received. Sometimes it’s a letter or sonnet from another student or former student. Other times it’s a passage from their favorite book or an acceptance letter from their dream college.

  Sometimes the presentations are lighthearted, but once in a while the event takes a more emotional turn. Some of the most poignant ones have been letters written to the students by loved ones who have since passed away. That the kids feel comfortable enough in my classroom to share something so personal and sad is a gift I don’t take for granted.

We end the time with the exchange of traditional English Christmas crackers, which are small gift-wrapped cylinders (think toilet paper or paper towel roll) filled with small little trinkets and candy, as well as a brief greeting for the new year, since this is the last time we’ll see each other until the next year.

Cas and Dev
Last day of school with some beloved former students

Aside from the goodbye PowerPoint presentation I give on the last day of school, it’s the time I’m most likely to cry. I’m a big crybaby and I think it’s important that my students–especially the boys–see that it’s okay for a man to cry. And, bar none, it’s my favorite thing that we do together the entire year. The kids have great fun and so do I. But it’s a lot more than fun. It’s meaningful. And that’s more important.


Joe Stephens is a teacher at Parkersburg High School. He is also the author of Harsh Prey, Kisses and Lies, and the recently released In the Shadow, all of which are available in paperback and Kindle formats. The paperback may be purchased from Createspace, Amazon, and most online booksellers. In the real world, you may purchase from J & M Used Book Store in Parkersburg and from the author’s trunk.

ITS Cover ArtCheck out his newest book on Amazon

kindle cover

Take a look at Harsh Prey on Amazon 

Kisses and Lies Cover Michele croppedTake a look at Kisses and Lies on Amazon

Join Joe on Facebook 

Check out joe’s website.


22 thoughts on “Gift Of Words

  1. Thank you for this post, Joe. It goes to show you that a gift doesn’t have to be expensive. A gift from the heart is so much more loved and your project shows that. I’ve been in the habit of giving “word” gifts for many years. As a singer/songwriter I have often writen songs or poems as gifts and they are always well received. People don’t believe that another person would take the time and effort to write something special for them, and when they receive that gift it often brings them to tears. What a wonderful project for you and your students. I’d cry too!


  2. And a wonderful gift you are giving your students, Joe. I love the idea. Words can be hurtful or healing. I tend toward the healing. May you have many more young people you give the gift of words to. Doris

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What you are doing sounds like a great gift to your students. And emphasizes the gift of connecting emotionally with someone. A teacher can make so much difference in the life of a student and you sound like a great teacher who inspires and appreciates your opportunity to be a positive influence. Way to go!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. As an ex-teacher of younger kids than you teach, Joe, I know how frenetic the run up to Christmas can be. In Scotland the kids go off for a 2 week break and a completely fresh new year start when they return. Whatever happens during those last day pre-Xmas days needs something meaningful to be happening and your ‘gift’ class sounds perfect.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. In high school, I had a teacher very much like you, Joe. Her name is June Berkeley, and she’s still living. To this day, I deeply respect her teaching style. I wanted to write before her, but she is the one who strengthened my resolve. Your ‘gift’ class made me think of my Grandma Mid, who passed away in 1995. When she knew she didn’t have too much more ‘sojourn’ time with us, she left letters for all her grandchildren. She always had a nervous leg that usually was twitching, shaking, when she sat on the couch. She kidded me, telling me her leg was twitching in Heaven.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. That’s a beautiful thing you do with your students, Joe! Thank you for sharing this important message with all of us — I’m sure I would have loved being in your English class (which was one of my fav classes in both high school and in college!).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sorry I’ve been slow replying. Between the insane busy-ness of the season and computer problems, I’m hopelessly behind. I feel like the students do enjoy it, but I feel like I’m the one that gets the real benefit from it.


  7. It sounds like you make a very positive impact on your students and that’s something to be so proud of. To call some of your students “family” is wonderful and it appears to me that you are very beloved by many of your students. I too would have loved to be in your English class. It’s moments like the ones you described that kids will treasure for a lifetime. Great post, Joe.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They really do become my kids, at least for the time we’re in class together. And a number of my former students commented that this activity was one of their favorites too. 🙂 Thanks.


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