I have a traditional first week of school assignment that I'm rather fond of. I always begin the year by informing the kids that we are going to write every day, but I reassure them that it will never be anything they can't handle. In fact, to prove it, I tell them we are going to start with words, just words, and build our way up from there.
Their task this week is to come up with 30 nouns and/or adjectives that describe them in some way. Oh, I tie in their independent reading right away, too, encouraging them to "steal" specific nouns and adjectives from other writers by looking at how these published authors describe the people in their books.
When the lists are completed, the students trace their hands on a piece of paper and then scribe the words they have chosen along the outline. The last step is to decorate the hand, cut it out, and mount it on construction paper for display.
This simple activity provides enormous insight into their classroom skills and their work habits, and the products end up being a wonderful snapshot of each student-- their hands, their designs, their words.