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Lesson Plan

Draft Letters: Improving Student Writing through Critical Thinking

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Draft Letters: Improving Student Writing through Critical Thinking

Grades 9 – 12
Lesson Plan Type Minilesson
Estimated Time 50 minutes
Lesson Author

Traci Gardner

Traci Gardner

Blacksburg, Virginia


National Council of Teachers of English


Student Objectives

Instruction & Activities


Student Assessment/Reflections



Students will

  • think critically about their writing.

  • communicate clearly about their writing.

  • review letter-writing conventions.

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Instruction & Activities

  1. Explain draft letters to the class:

    Students write reflective letters to you (or another reader), explaining their own thoughts on a specific piece of writing (e.g., a paper, a Website, a journal entry). You (or the student reader) will read the letter with the piece of writing, and use the information in the letter to guide comments and feedback. This is students’ chance to tell you anything you should know before you respond to their writing.

  2. Provide an example purpose for the activity by saying something like “Nothing feels worse than to be criticized for something you already know isn’t working well, or to not be commended for something you really thought was great. Let me know what you think, and I can help you” (from Swartzendruber-Putnam, p. 90).

  3. Display or pass out the Reflection Questions, and go over the kinds of things that students can talk about in their letters.

  4. Brainstorm additional questions, and record students’ responses on the board, chart paper, or an overhead transparency. Save the questions for students to use in later sessions.

  5. Review the basic requirements of letter writing using the information in the introduction to the Letter Generator.

  6. Stress the role of audience and purpose in these letters: students are writing letters to another reader in order to give that reader important information about another text that they have written.

  7. Arrange students in small groups, and give each group copies of Mike’s Letter and Nate’s Letter.

  8. In their groups, ask students to read the two letters and compare the information that they communicate with readers. Students should easily recognize that Mike’s Letter is more thoughtful and detailed than Nate’s Letter.

  9. As you circulate among groups, encourage them to identify reasons that one letter is more successful than the other. Ask them to find specific details that support their observations.

  10. Once students have had a chance to work through the two letters, gather the class together, and ask them to share their observations. As they identify techniques of good letters, record the ideas on the board, chart paper, or an overhead transparency. The list can become an informal checklist for well-written draft letters.

  11. Answer any questions that students have about writing their own draft letters.

  12. For a homework assignment or during the next class session, ask students to write their own draft letters to submit with a piece of writing for your feedback.

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  • The first time you complete this activity, model the letters and discuss the activity as explained here. For subsequent writing pieces, ask students to complete letters again. If desired, review additional student samples with the class to discuss how to communicate more clearly in letters.

  • Begin by having students write their letters to you, but as their expertise with reflection builds, the letters can be addressed to any readers—writing group members, a peer reviewer, and so forth.

  • Fold this activity into students’ journals or writing logs by asking them to compose a draft entry that reflects on the other entries in the journal. When students submit their journals, use the draft entry as you would a draft letter to guide your feedback and response.

  • In technical writing classes, adapt the lesson by asking students to write memos, rather than letters.

  • Make connections to minilessons that you have completed to influence students’ draft letters. Consider the following connections:

    • If you have recently completed a minilesson on using examples to develop ideas, remind students how the technique applies to draft letters. Ask them to use examples from the piece of writing they are discussing to develop the points they are making in their reflections.

    • If you have recently learned how to use quotation marks and quotations, encourage students to use quotations from the written pieces that they are reflecting on.

    • After a minilesson on comparison and contrast, suggest students might use the technique to compare the piece of writing they are reflecting on to something else that they have written.

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  • Give students credit for having completed their draft letters, rather than grading this piece. The goal is to encourage reflective thinking and the focus should be on the accompanying piece of writing. While the draft letter is an important communication tool, it should be an ungraded piece.

  • Feedback on the activity should focus on students' self-reflection rather than “right” or “wrong” choices. Read every letter as thoroughly as you read the related piece of writing. As students first begin this kind of reflection, provide scaffolding to support their development as critical thinkers. In response, ask them questions that will lead to clearer and deeper thinking. If desired, your response can also be written in letter form.

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