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Book Report Alternative: A Character’s Letter to the Editor
|Grades||6 – 8|
|Lesson Plan Type||Standard Lesson|
|Estimated Time||Four 50-minute sessions|
- choose and research a specific issue or situation from a novel.
- review persuasive writing structure and business letter format.
- determine the criteria for effective letters to the editor.
- explore the ways that purpose and audience influence a message.
- develop arguments and support ideas with evidence.
- Explain the book report assignment to the class:
Choose a main character from the book that you have read, and write a letter to the editor from that character. You’ll write to a newspaper that makes sense for the character that you have chosen (e.g., from the right time period and in the right geographical location). Your job will be to determine an issue that is important to the character that you have chosen or a situation that the character wants to change. Your letter will explain that issue or situation to readers of the newspaper.
- Ask students to share any experiences that they have with letters to the editor of newspapers or magazines that they read.
- Pass out newspapers to the class, and ask students to find the letters to the editor in their papers.
- Give students a few minutes to skim through the letters, and jot down characteristics that they see in the letters.
- Gather the class, and ask them to share the characteristics that they have noted. Record their observations on the board or on chart paper.
- Focus students’ attention on the content of the letters and the position of the letter writers by asking them to brainstorm a list of topics and positions that the letters cover. Record their answers on the board or chart paper, using parallel language as possible to emphasize the positions (e.g., a letter for increasing school funding, a letter for better animal control, a letter against tax increases, a letter against increasing school funding).
- Pass out copies of the Letter to the Editor Worksheet for students to refer to.
- Demonstrate how to complete the worksheet by working through the questions for a novel that all students will be familiar with. This example uses Carl Hiaasen’s novel Hoot to demonstrate possible answers.
- If students need more time to think about their own books, arrange students in small groups and ask them to brainstorm possible topics and positions for the novels that they have read.
- When students are ready, have them begin gathering ideas by completing the Letter to the Editor Worksheet for their books.
- Collect the Letter to the Editor Worksheet at the end of the session, and review the work before the next session. Provide any feedback as necessary.
- For homework, have students read all the letters to the editor in their copy of the newspaper again. Ask students to pay attention to the characteristics which the letters have in common and the features that make letters successful.
- Begin with a review of the activities that students completed in the previous session.
- Share any general feedback on the topics that students have chosen, based on your review of the Letter to the Editor Worksheet, and pass the sheets back to students.
- Answer any questions that students have about the project at this point.
- Ask the class to share characteristics that they noticed as they read the letters to editor for homework. Record their responses on the board or on chart paper.
- If necessary, ask questions such as the following to guide students’ observations:
- What did you notice about the organization of the letters?
- How were details used in the letters?
- What kind of details were used?
- How do the letters persuade their readers?
- Which letters seemed best?
- What is the difference between an acceptable letter and a great letter?
- What did you notice about the organization of the letters?
- Once the list is fairly complete, review the items, and make any additions or corrections.
- Ask students to suggest general categories that fit the characteristics (e.g., formatting issues, structure, ideas).
- Arrange the characteristics into these general categories, creating a checklist or rubric for students’ letters.
- Pass out copies of the Persuasion Map Planning Sheet, and use the information to analyze a letter to the editor from one of the newspapers.
- Demonstrate how to use the Persuasion Map to begin gathering and organizing ideas for students’ letters.
- If desired, share the Persuasion Map for Hoot.
- Allow students the rest of the session to continue working on their papers with the Persuasion Map.
- Remind students to refer their Letter to the Editor Worksheet as useful.
- As students work, circulate through the room, providing feedback and support.
- If time allows, review the first sentences of several letters from the editor, and ask students point out the similarities between the sentences. Based on these examples, have students write their own sentences. Review the way to punctuate the titles of articles and the newspapers in these opening sentences.
- If desired, point students to one or more of the resources with guidelines for composing letters to the editor listed under Websites in the Resources section.
- For homework, ask students to compose a first draft of their letters. Explain that the letters will be exchanged for peer review during the next session.
- Review the criteria for effective letters to the editor that students created during the previous session, and answer any questions that students have about the project or their drafts.
- Pass out copies of the Letter to the Editor Peer Review Questions.
- Display an overhead transparency of the Sample Letter to the Editor for Hoot, or pass out copies of the example.
- Read through the letter and use the Letter to the Editor Peer Review Questions and the class rubric to assess the letter and discuss how it could be improved.
- After you are certain that students understand the activity, arrange them in pairs, and ask partners to exchange and read one another’s drafts.
- After reading the drafts, have them fill out the Letter to the Editor Peer Review Questions to provide feedback.
- After students have shared and received feedback, allow time for the students to revise their drafts.
- For homework, ask students to revise their drafts, based on the feedback that they have received. Explain that students will type their final drafts during the next class session.
- Review the criteria for effective letters to the editor that students created, and answer any questions that students have about the project or their drafts.
- Focus students’ attention on reading their drafts for minor errors before students move to type their letters.
- Remind students to punctuate the title of their articles in quotation marks, to italicize newspaper titles, and to place direct quotations from the article in quotation marks. If desired, use the ReadWriteThink lesson plan Inside or Outside? A Minilesson on Quotation Marks and More as a minilesson at this point.
- Demonstrate the Letter Generator, which students will use to publish their letters.
- Allow the rest of the session for students to type and print their letters.
- Collect students’ letters, worksheets, and drafts at the end of the session.
- If desired, ask students to print two copies of their letters, and display one copy of each letter in the school library or bulletin board.
- In Both Art and Craft: Teaching Ideas That Spark Learning (NCTE, 2000), Diana Mitchell suggests the following activity, which could be used as an extension or alternative to writing from a character’s perspective:
After students understand how to write a persuasive editorial, have them write an editorial about an issue in a book. For instance, while reading Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, students might want to write an editorial beseeching people to stay out of Paris; while reading Walter Dean Myers’ Fallen Angels, they might want to write about their view of war; while reading When Zachary Beaver Came to Town by Kimberly Willis Holt, they might want to express their opinions about the way that obese Zachary is treated. Is he being exploited? (37).
- For an extended unit, students can create newspapers based on events in the fictional setting of the books that they have read and include their letters to the editor as one of the texts in the paper. If desired, use the ReadWriteThink Printing Press to publish the newspapers. For instance, a newspaper related to the novel Hoot could include stories on the new restaurant and on vandalism at the construction site, a personal interest story on Kimberly Lou Dixon (the actress who portrays Mother Paula), and an education story on bullying in public schools.
Check drafts and worksheets for completion and effort. Look in particular for indications of improvement over the series of drafts that students complete for the assignment. Assess students’ final drafts using the criteria for effective letters to the editor that students created during the second session of the lesson. If you prefer a more formal rubric, use the Persuasive Letter Rubric.