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Lesson Plan

Family Message Journals Teach Many Purposes for Writing

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Family Message Journals Teach Many Purposes for Writing

Grades K – 2
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Three 40-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Julie Wollman, Ph.D.

Julie Wollman, Ph.D.

Worcester, Massachusetts


National Council of Teachers of English


Materials and Technology






  • Teachers seeking assistance with getting Family Message Journals started should consult the lesson Launching Family Message Journals. The article Journal Writing Every Day: Teachers Say It Works! also provides examples from many classrooms.

  • A booklet or notebook to be used as a journal. Lined paper with an unlined block at the top (for illustrations) works well in the beginning.

  • Back-up people to reply if a child's family members cannot participate, such as a student teacher in the school, a special subject teacher, the principal, or librarian.

  • Books for the example topics used in this lesson (optional):

    • Whales and Dolphins
      Davidson, Margaret. (1985). Dolphins!. NY: Scholastic.
      Himmelman, John. (1990). Ibis: A True Whale Story. NY: Scholastic.
      Serventy, Vincent. (1984). Animals in the Wild: Whale and Dolphin. NY: Scholastic.
      Sheldon, Dyan (1997). The Whales' Song. NY: Puffin.

    • Native Americans
      Kids Discover. (2003). Southwest Peoples, vol. 13, no. 1. (And earlier issues on Native Americans).

  • Family Message Journals: Teaching Writing through Family Involvement (Wollman-Bonilla, Julie; 2000) for many more ideas about message topics, how to handle potential problems, etc. (optional).

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Family Letter

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  • Choose the activities, books, or experience about which children will write their three messages, each with a different purpose. These should grow from your curriculum. One message could focus on remembering, thinking about, and explaining to families what they have learned from an experience. For example: a unit on dolphins ands whales which included reading nonfiction (Animals in the Wild: Whales and Dolphins and Dolphins!), realistic fiction (Ibis: A True Whale Story and The Whales' Song), Venn diagram comparison of the two animals, storytelling with a large whale puppet, exploration of the SeaWorld Website, and a visit to or speaker from the local aquarium.

    The second message could focus on connecting new information to what children already know. For example: based on a study of Native American life which included magazines (Kids Discover: Southwest Peoples and Kids Discover: Native America), books, and Website exploration (The History Channel site), children use their messages to compare their lives with those of Native Americans.

    The third message could focus on expressing personal thoughts and feelings. For example, thoughts about a character in a chapter book you are reading aloud to the class. Other possibilities include using a message to: remember a responsibility (e.g. something children need to bring to school the next day), to recall and savor a special experience, or to think through a plan (e.g. how I will go about gathering information for my project). The foundational activities could be books read aloud, a science inquiry, a social studies lesson, a school assembly, a field trip, a celebration, making new friends, an assigned homework project, or any other topic drawing on school experiences.

  • Prepare and photocopy the Family Letter if it has not been used in an earlier lesson. Have it translated into families' home languages as necessary.

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