Who's Got Mail? Using Literature to Promote Authentic Letter Writing
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This activity uses literature and shared writing to teach letter-writing format and promote authentic letter writing. Students listen to and talk about stories dealing with correspondence before participating in a collaborative, whole-group letter-writing activity. They go on to write their own letters to deliver or mail to adult school helpers, family, or friends. Students often go on to write letters on their own time, which may generate ongoing correspondence.
Letter Generator: This online tool allows students to read about the parts of a letter. They can then write and print their own friendly or business letter.
From Theory to Practice
Rebecca Powell and Nancy Davidson draw the distinction between school-based and situated literacy, noting that the former "distances students from the literacy event, treating written language as an object for analysis rather than a medium for genuine communication" while the latter "is embedded in real-world events." (249).
Offering young learners opportunities to communicate for genuine purposes to real audiences engages them and makes their literacy learning real and relevant. Powell and Davidson assert that "[t]apping into students' ‘funds of knowledge' is inherently motivating, and hence children are more engaged in learning when they perceive an authentic purpose for their efforts" (254). Learning about the purposes and conventions of letter writing, then, is made more meaningful and relevant when done in a manner that bridges school-based literacy learning with the personal communication needs and interests of the learners, as outlined in this lesson.
Common Core Standards
This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.
This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.
NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts
- 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
- 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
- 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
- 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
- 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).
Materials and Technology
- Writing materials, decorative stationery, envelopes, and postage stamps
- Copies of The Gardener by Sarah Stewart
- Copies of Dear Mr. Blueberry by Simon James
- Chart paper and markers
- Sheet of construction paper
- A container to hold letters waiting for mailing by the postal service, or an actual mailbox if letters will be distributed within the school only
- Determine whether students will be writing letters by hand or using the Letter Generator (or a combination of the two). If students will be using the Letter Generator, arrange for access to Internet-connected computers with printers for the appropriate sessions.
- Obtain all necessary letter-writing materials.
- Obtain copies of The Gardener and Dear Mr. Blueberry.
- Print a copy of the Letter Generator to share with students.
- Make copies of the Letter Writing Checklist.
- If students will be using the interactive tool, test the Letter Generator on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tools and ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the technical support page.
- discuss the purposes and conventions of letter writing.
- learn the names and uses of the components of a friendly letter.
- write for real purposes to authentic audiences.
- Gather students together for a read-aloud of the book The Gardener. Explain that this is the story of a little girl who goes to live with her uncle in the city when her father loses his job, and that the story is written through her letters home.
- Read The Gardener aloud. Ask students to take note of the different parts Lydia Grace includes in the letters she sends. As they identify the components, provide the labels for them if students do not know them:
- salutation or greeting
- postscript (PS)
- At the end of the story, have students respond to the story itself. Help students discuss the different purposes Lydia Grace uses letters to achieve. Possible answers include sharing information, expressing something that is difficult to say face to face, expressing gratitude, and so forth.
- Explain to students that the class is now going to write a letter together. Ask them to think about someone at school who has been helpful to them in some way. A good choice may be the principal, but students can help decide on any adult who has made a contribution.
- After students choose the letter recipient, have them briefly brainstorm ideas to include in the letter.
- Tape chart paper to the board to begin the shared letter-writing activity. Continue to elicit information for the letter from students through questioning. Make sure that all letter-writing elements are included: date, salutation, body, closing, and postscript.
- After the letter is complete, label the components and keep the finished product on display for reference in the next session.
- Tell students that in the next session, they will be writing a letter to someone. Ask them to think of someone they need to communicate with and consider what they need to share with/ask him or her. If students are going to be mailing their letters through the post office, ask them to write to one of their parents, or another relative or adult friend who is close to them. If they are going to be delivering their letters within the school, suggest that they write to an adult in the school who has done something to help them.
- Begin the session by telling students they are going to continue their study of letter writing and gather them for a read-aloud of Dear Mr. Blueberry. Discuss the nature and style of ongoing correspondence between Emily and Mr. Blueberry.
- Review with students the parts of the letter using the sample from the previous session. Share with them a copy of the Letter Generator to have another model for the product.
- Share the Letter Writing Checklist so students can self-evaluate their letters before mailing them.
- If students are using computers, have them open the Letter Generator for another review of the parts of a letter. Ask students to move on in the Letter Generator to begin their letters. Inform students that their work cannot be saved in this tool, so they need to print a copy of their work at the end of the session.
- If students are writing by hand, ask them to use pencil so they can correct any mistakes in their writing easily.
- As students write their letters, have them use the class-made references when necessary.
- Have students share letters in small groups and help each other revise and expand on their thoughts where appropriate. Give students time to return to the Letter Generator to make revisions if necessary.
- When students are finished, make a model of an envelope using a horizontal full sheet of construction paper, showing the correct placement of the return address and recipient’s address. Have them address their envelopes and affix stamps for mailing.
- If there is a mail box or a post office near the school, the class can walk there to deposit their letters. If students will be distributing letters within the school, have a small group of students work together to sort all the mail for delivery, then have all students participate in delivering the mail around the school.
- Use the interactive Postcard Creator to discuss the parts of postcards and create the text for students’ own postcards. Students can then illustrate the front of the cards using markers or other art supplies.
- Read aloud other books about correspondence, choosing from this list of Picture Books that Feature Letters.
- Conduct a literature circle using Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary.
- Teach this EDSITEment lesson, which has links to letters written by famous and not-so-famous people.
- Take a field trip to the post office.
- Establish pen pals in another city or at another school.
- Start a schoolwide mail center for ongoing in-school correspondence.
- Have students create their own All-In-One Envelopes and Stationery. Directions can be found at Crayola.
Student Assessment / Reflections
- Use the Letter Writing Checklist to evaluate students’ understanding and application of friendly letter format.