(Image via Rob Jones on Flickr)

How do you get started, when you’re writing a letter of recommendation? Recently, a colleague put out a call for assistance as he prepared to talk with teachers about writing effective letters of support. Did anyone have any lists of helpful adjectives, he wanted to know?

Initially, this made sense to me; I remembered the lists of action verbs that circulated amongst my friends during résumé-writing season in college. But then, as I thought about the letters of recommendation that had been the most helpful to me back when I was reviewing applications, it occurred to me that a list of adjectives might lead to the worst possible outcome… letters of recommendation full of long, unsubstantiated adjectival strings.

So instead of adjectives, which when left unexplicated can sit there like lumps, I shared the following list of story starters.

  • “From [this student’s] first days in my class, I knew…”
  • “I can tell when [this student] is engaged because….”
  • “I have particularly noticed [this student’s] growth in…”
  • “When [this student] is absent, …..”
  • “The first thing I think of when I think of [this student] is the time….”
  • “The kinds of questions that interest [this student] are…”
  • “As a learner, [this student]…”
  • “One day, when we spoke outside of class, [this student]…”
  • “Sometimes I wonder if [this student]…”
  • “I can easily imagine [this student]…”
  • “One thing that really stands out about [this student] is…”
  • “At our school, [this student] has a reputation for…”
  • “It seems that [this student] draws strength from…”
  • “When I imagine [this student] in college, I see…”
  • “I will never forget the way [this student]…”
  • “College professors who see [this student’s name] on their roster can expect…”
  • “Although you might not think so at first, [this student]…”
  • “Ten years from now, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that [this student] had…”

What do you think? Got any great student story starters to share in the comments?

(Hat tip to the excellent Patrick O’Connor
at the amazing Roeper School
for the hand he played in inspiring this post.)

Posted on December 9, 2009, in recommendations. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Oh, this is awesome. Can I (with proper credit, of course, as ever!) add it to my Teacher Recommendation Writing Seminar? (still one of my favorite things to do!)

  2. @MemeGRL Of COURSE you may use this any way you like!And let's talk soon (maybe this w/e) re: wrestling…

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