Writing to the Chancellors
Students will write a letter to a contemporary poet from the Chancellors of the Academy of American Poets asking about a poem and the poet's voice.
- Grades: 3–5, 6–8, 9–12
- Unit Plan:
Welcome to the classroom component of the Academy of American Poets 2016 National Poetry Month education project, Dear Poet. This multimedia unit invites young people in grades five through twelve to write letters in response to poems written and read by some of the award-winning poets who serve on the Academy of American Poets Board of Chancellors.
This lesson is the last in a series of four, so make sure students complete the previous lesson, Reading Poems by the Academy Chancellors, before beginning their letters. This will provide time for the students to familiarize themselves with several poems by the Academy Chancellors and practice finding meaning in poems.
Students, in their unique voices, will write formal letters to poets who are present Chancellors of the Academy of American Poets using:
- Evidence that students have read a poem written by the Chancellor
- Questions for the poet about the poem and their voice as a writer
- Proper format and writing conventions
Whole Class Warm-up
Remind your students that now they will be writing formal letters to some of the Chancellors of the Academy of American Poets. The following activities are all concerned with writing these letters.
Step 1: Have your students write quick associations to the sentence stem "My writing voice is…" in their journals or on a separate piece of paper. They should write between three and five associations.
Step 2: Ask students to get into writing groups of three students each, with students who are familiar with their writing.
Step 3: In their groups, one student should share her completions to the sentence stem.
Step 4: Students who are listening should add constructive descriptions of the student’s voice that they think are missing. If nothing is missing, they can simply agree with the student’s assessment.
Step 5: Students should go around the group members, sharing their stem completions and commenting until all students in each group have had a chance.
Step 6: When they are finished discussing their own voices, ask each individual student to choose a poem or poet that spoke to them from the seven poems they read by Chancellors of the Academy during the Reading Poems by the Academy Chancellors lesson.
Generating Connections and Questions
Step 1: After your students have chosen the poet to whom they would like to write, ask them to read and view the video of the poem carefully again, jotting down lines, words, and images that jump out at them.
Step 2: Ask students to write down questions they have for the poet about the poem and how it was written. They should also write down questions they have about how to read a poem in front of an audience.
Step 3: When they have finished writing lines, words, images, and questions, ask for volunteers to share some of these with the whole class.
Step 4: Make a record of some of these on the board at the front of the room. Explain why you chose the ones you did.
Writing a Formal Letter
Step 1: Review the format for a formal letter, including date, internal address, greeting with punctuation, and appropriate closing.
Step 2: Ask for a volunteer (or volunteers) to recall what it means to write “in your own voice.”
Step 3: Ask for another volunteer to recall the general form of a letter, i.e., opening idea, several paragraphs containing their ideas and evidence, and their concluding thoughts.
Step 4: Ask each student to use a computer to write a draft letter to their chosen poet, telling him or her what in the poem spoke to them and asking questions relating to how the poet wrote this poem and writes others.
Step 5: If students do not finish this draft, they can continue to write for homework, or, if you prefer, they can do all of their writing at home.
Peer Review: Mirroring Activity
When your students have finished writing their first drafts, have them do the following:
Step 1: Place your students in heterogeneous groups of three (or in their usual writing groups, if you do peer review regularly).
Step 2: Ask students in each group to exchange letters so they each have someone else’s.
Step 3: If necessary, remind your students how to give constructive criticism, citing positives first and then specifics on what can be improved.
Step 4: Ask one student in each group to read aloud the letter she has to the other members of her group.
Step 5: After she reads it, ask her to tell the writer what they thought the letter said and what was confusing about the letter. Is the letter writer’s voice strong and clear? The reader should also make helpful comments about voice, format and conventions.
Step 6: The writer should take notes and incorporate helpful comments, especially those where the reader’s interpretation differed from the writer’s intent.
Step 7: Continue the process in each group until all three people have had their letters read back to them and recorded helpful comments.
This can be accomplished either in class, combined in-class and homework, or as homework.
Step 1: Ask your students to rewrite their first drafts, paying attention to the comments they received from their peers.
Step 2: Have the students hand in their second drafts to you for questions and comments.
Step 3: Return students’ second drafts so they can polish their letters before hand-writing a final draft.
Submitting Letters to the Academy of American Poets
We encourage you to submit your students’ letters for possible publication on Poets.org in May 2016. Send all letters via post or email by April 30, 2016. Please include each student’s name, the poet that inspired his or her poem, and the name of your school.
The Academy of American Poets
75 Maiden Lane, Suite 901
New York, NY 10038
Literature Common Core Standards Addressed in These Activities
Reading, Craft and Structure:
Writing, Production and Distribution of Writing:
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.4 and 5
Speaking and Listening, Comprehension and Collaboration: