Activity And Project

Mail Time!

3 - 5
Activity Time
20 to 45 minutes
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Activity Description

If you have a mail box, you're sure to have a pile of junk mail. Everyone gets some amount of junk mail-from store advertisements to credit card applications, and political brochures to appeals for charitable donations.   Most of the time, you toss it right into the recycle bin. Instead, sort through the mail and talk about what you find for a fun literacy activity before recycling it!

Why This Is Helpful

By investigating junk mail, children learn to think about and question what they see and read.  In the process, they develop their critical thinking and analytical skills.  With more practice, children can learn skills to become critical consumers of all media-from television ads to magazine ads and junk mail to billboards.

This activity was modified from the ReadWriteThink lesson plan "Investigating Junk Mail: Negotiating Critical Literacy at the Mailbox."

What You Need

  • Examples of junk mail
  • Computer access (optional)

Here's What To Do

  1. Collect junk mail for several days. Sort through it to determine if any of it contains inappropriate content or personal information, and remove any of those pieces from the collection.
  2. Invite children to investigate the pieces of mail and talk about what they find.
  3. Ask the children to think specifically about the word "junk" in the name junk mail. What makes this mail "junk"? Do they agree with that name? What else could they call it?
  4. Encourage children to explain what makes the pieces of mail similar and different.
  5. Ask them to sort the junk mail into piles of their own choosing. When they are done sorting, have the children explain why they made each pile. Any kind of sorting is fine. Children may sort based on size or color, based on the kind of mailing (e.g., letters, glossy advertisements, newspaper inserts), or based on who the junk mail is addressed to. Leave the sorting categories open to the child. As you discuss the categories, you can suggest other ways of sorting the junk mail and then encourage the child to re-sort the pieces.
  6. Take a closer look at several pieces of junk mail:
    • How do you know what the piece of junk mail is about?
    • How do you know what is being advertised in this piece of junk mail?
    • Who are the people who will probably read this piece of junk mail?
    • Who created and sent out this piece of junk mail?
    • What kind of things are advertised in this piece of junk mail?
    • What do the advertisers want you to think about the items mentioned or shown in this piece of junk mail?
    • What is the purpose of this piece of junk mail?
    • What techniques in the piece of junk mail are used to attract your attention?
    • Would someone else understand this piece of junk mail differently from you?
    • What kinds of people and interests are represented in or omitted from this piece of junk mail?
  7. As children discuss these issues, encourage them to point directly to examples from the junk mail that support or demonstrate what they are saying.
  8. When you are done with the junk mail, recycle it!

More Ideas To Try

  • Challenge children to take one piece of junk mail and rewrite it in a way that they think is more honest, more effective, dramatic, or humorous. They can focus on a different audience or a different persuasive point.
  • Chart the number of pieces of mail that are received each day.  How many are junk mail?  How many are useful pieces of mail?
  • Use the pieces of junk mail to create other projects:
    • Make mosaics-parts and pieces glued together to make a new picture.
    • Use newspaper headlines-words pieced together to make a statement.
    • Use words from the mail to create a book or story.
    • Have a scavenger hunt for specific pictures of people, animals, sports, etc.
    • Use pictures from the junk mail to put together a grocery list.
    • Fold the junk mail into pieces of origami.
    • Play "I Spy" with the child, providing clues for things to find in the junk mail.
  • Since you will be recycling the junk mail, talk about the process of recycling.  You can watch a video of paper recycling together to learn more about the way recycling works.

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