“To send a letter is a good way to go somewhere without moving anything but your heart.”
When is the last time you wrote a letter using paper and pencil? For many of us, it has been quite a long time. The art of letter writing is under assault from easy access to email and social media. Also, busy lifestyles don’t provide as many opportunities to benefit from the luxury of the time it takes to contemplate and put thoughts into words.
Universal Letter Writing Week takes place January 10 – 16. The purpose of recognizing letter writing is to encourage everyone to take up pen and paper and write a personal letter during the week. Let’s take a look at how to encourage letter writing with your students.
Modeling is one excellent form of teaching practice. Instead of teaching letter writing as a stand-alone topic, consider including letters as primary sources in history lessons or sharing examples found in books and novels to engage students and provide context for different purposes for letter writing.
Here are some resources for finding letters to share with your students:
- Spy Letters of the American Revolution (reviewed here) – This gallery features letters written by a complex network of spies and double agents that provide insight into the successes and failures of battles and attacks during the American Revolution. This fantastic site includes a Teachers Lounge with activities, themes, study questions, and more. Other links feature a timeline, explanations of tips and techniques, and stories behind the revolution. What better way to engage students in letter writing than by including information about spies?!
- Letters About Literature (reviewed here) – Although the Library of Congress discontinued this program in 2019, the archive shares prizewinning letters from state and national entrants dating back to 2000. The contest offered students the opportunity to write to any author, living or dead, based upon annual themes. Instead of a national competition, states now administer the contest on an optional basis. Try searching your state’s name with “Letters About Literature” to see if this is an option for your classroom.
- History.com – Search this website to find links to stories about letters throughout history. See messages from Abigail Adams to her husband, John Adams; Martin Luther King Jr.’s jailhouse letters; and a note found on a Titanic victim’s body. In addition to the letters, each story provides background information that gives context and clarity to the contents.
- Goodreads (reviewed here) – Many novels and children’s books include letters as part of the story or are told entirely through letters. Try searching for “epistolary novels” and “children’s books with letters, mail, notes, diaries, journals, or postcards” to find books to share with your class. Don’t forget to include epistolary as a new vocabulary word!
Lesson and Activities
After engaging students by viewing models and seeing examples of letters, it is time to let them become the creators. These resources share many options that encourage creativity through letter writing.
- ReadWriteThink (reviewed here) – Bookmark this valuable site for use with any content area and topic and any grade level. The resources found here support literacy throughout all curriculums.
- Letter Writing Generator (reviewed here) – This generator provides a sample letter, then takes users through the step by step process of writing a letter. Along the way, students learn about the five different components of a letter and have the option of creating a personal letter or business letter.
- Who’s Got Mail – This is a lesson for grades 3-5 based on the novels The Gardener and Dear Mr. Blueberry. Upon completion, students write and deliver letters to their peers, adult school helpers, or family members.
- Exploring Literature Through Letter-writing Groups – In this lesson designed for for grades 9-12, students exchange letters that explore an issue or idea from a selected text. Throughout the lesson, activities help students focus on letter-writing skills that encourage open discussion and leave room for response.
- Contemplating Correspondence writing activity – This simple PDF guides students toward thinking about the purpose and motivation for writing letters. Keep this handy to use as a schema activator as you begin your letter writing activities.
- Write Letters that Make Things Happen! – Find ideas here to engage students in writing letters individually or as a group to make things happen. Suggestions include letter writing at the end of an animal unit to a local zoo or the editor of a newspaper discussing censored books. This site is appropriate for grades K-12.
- Reading Rockets (reviewed here) – An Introduction to Letter Writing guides elementary students through the letter-writing process. The article shares components of the different types of letters along with suggestions for appropriate use. As you introduce and share each kind of letter, consider sharing examples on a class Padlet (reviewed here) for students to reference throughout the school year. Use the Shelf option to create columns to organize the different options for more comfortable use.
- Scholastic (reviewed here) – Scholastic shares many literacy-based lessons and interactives that are most suitable for grades K-8.
- Show Someone You Care: A Letter-Writing Unit – This unit for grades 3-5 guides students through several different letter-writing opportunities. During the unit, students write reflective letters, celebrate holidays, and more. Even if you don’t follow the unit, look at the many templates and checklists to use with any letter-writing project.
- Better Letters: Lesson Plans for Teaching Letter Writing – The five lessons found on this site emphasize practical letter-writing skills in different formats. This site also includes several rubrics for assessing many letter formats.
Take your lessons to the next level with extension activities that incorporate your students’ newly-found letter writing skills.
- Create a video describing how to write a letter; use this video made with MySimpleShow (reviewed here) as a model.
- Connect with others as pen pals, and find participating schools using these resources:
- Of course, the point of Universal Letter Writing Week is to encourage hand-written letters; however, if you want a digital alternative, try searching Canva Edu (reviewed here) and Google Docs for templates. One attractive template found on Google Docs (reviewed here) is a pet resume. Use this activity as a starting point, then have students write a letter sharing what makes their pet special. This resume might serve as an inspiration to encourage even the most hesitant writers to put pencil to paper and share their love for their pets!
How will you introduce letter writing in your classroom? Do you have a unique project that encourages students to write letters? Share your ideas in the comments – we would love to hear them!