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November 30, 2016

It's National Write to a Friend Month!

By Amanda Nehring
Grades 1–2

    December is so full of festive fun that often we miss out on another perfect holiday filled with learning opportunities: National Write to a Friend Month! The month of December is slated as a time to stop what you’re doing and drop a note to a friend.

    In first and second grade, students are learning to be more confident writers and beginning to move past the standard narrative to write in a variety of genres. As such, writing a letter to a friend can be a wonderful way to polish one’s writing skills, practice communicating effectively, and spread a little cheer to the ones you love. Here are some ideas for you to include National Write to a Friend month in your classroom this December.

     

    Children’s Books With Friendly Letters

    The Jolly Postman has always been one of my favorite stories from childhood. The book rhymes its way through the tale of a postman who delivers mail to famous storybook characters, stopping at each house for some tea and interaction with everyone from the Big Bad Wolf to Goldilocks. I think part of what makes this story so intriguing for young students is that each storybook character receives a letter, card, advertising flyer, or other special delivery that you can actually remove from a built-in envelope and read yourself. I remember being so excited to open Cinderella’s mini-storybook or read the postcard from Jack to the Giant of the beanstalk, and I see the same enthusiasm in my students as they enjoy this story today. For more ideas on how to use this book full of postal deliveries in your classroom, check out Genia Connell’s lesson plan Once Upon a Pop-Up Book.

    This story is new to my classroom library, but quickly became a go-to resource for showing students examples of letter writing appropriate to their early elementary levels. In this short and simple story we meet a young girl, Emilia, who corresponds with her teacher, Mr. Blueberry, throughout the summer. Emilia is convinced there is a whale living in her family’s pond, and while Mr. Blueberry shares information to try and help Emilia understand the facts vs. fiction of whales, we also see a sweet relationship develop between the teacher and student as he tries his best to encourage her imaginative spirit. One thing I really like about this story is that is provides a great example for students of the kind of respectful correspondence that can take place between a child and an adult. I always make sure to stop and show students how one should address their audience in a letter, include important information in conversation format, and end their letter with a friendly salutation, all characteristics that are present in the letters of this story.

    I’m back to my love for fairy tales with this story, but I just can’t help it! I think that Dear Cinderella is such a creative idea for a children’s book and a wonderful resource for teaching letter writing in the classroom. Throughout this book students are able to watch the friendship between Cinderella and Snow White unfold, beginning when both girls were still living under the awful conditions of their evil stepmothers. We as readers are given only letters from each fairy tale character to read as we see the famous stories progress to happily ever after. The book provides solid examples of letters written between close friends, making sure to include not only information about yourself and your own life, but also to respond to and inquire about your friend’s life as well. This can be a tricky skill for first and second graders to learn, but Cinderella and Snow White do such an excellent job of carrying on a written conversation throughout this story that your students will be able to get the hang of it in no time!

    Three books to read as you introduce your students to letter writing.
     

    Free Printable Stationery

     

    Once your students have read some great examples of friendly letters through children’s books like those mentioned above, they should start practicing writing notes of their own. A fabulous way to motivate students to write lots of letters is by providing them with fun stationery, colored pens and pencils, and even envelopes in your writing center. Make sure to let your students use their imaginations when writing, getting creative by adding illustrations, color and any other fun decor they may choose. To stock up your letter writing area, print out these three free stationery pages from Scholastic Printables.

    Three free stationery pages you can download from Scholastic Printables.
     

    Letter Writing Activities

    • In-Class Mystery Pen Pals

    Much like the Secret Santa practice in December, you can get your students excited about writing letters by implementing in-class mystery pen pals. Begin by secretly assigning each student in your class the name of a fellow classmate. Be sure to impress upon your students the importance of not telling anyone the identity of their pen pal. Students should be given about 10 minutes each day (this is a great morning work or transition time activity) to write a letter to their secret pen pal. They can include information about their day, tell a funny story or even compliment their pen pal on a job well done in class. The most important thing to remember is that instead of signing their names, students should close their letters as “Your mystery pen pal.” You may choose whether or not you want to allow students to respond to their pen pals, or if you would prefer a one-way dialogue. If you want to allow students to write back to their mystery pen pals, then you would just have to make each student hand in their response letters to you so that you can give them to the matching classmate. This practice can continue for multiple days or weeks, ending with a final letter where the students sign their names on their last cards, revealing their identities to their pen pals. It is so fun to watch how excited students become about carrying on secret conversations and you’d be surprised what a great job they do at not letting the secret slip before the appropriate time.

    • Upper Grade Writing Buddies

    As teachers we are all aware of the benefit of scaffolding as a teaching strategy as well as the power of modeling to provide young students with examples of well-written texts. You can harness this power through the use of upper grade writing buddies. Begin by finding a colleague who would be willing to have his or her upper grade students become writing buddies with your first or second graders. Plan a day when you can get both of your classes together, pairing one older student and one younger student as writing buddies. Give the partners a chance to chat for a while and get to know one another. Then tell the students that they will be able to continue their conversations and build their friendship through letters. At least once a week provide time for your students to write to their upper grade buddies. Remind students to follow the friendly letter format and to make sure they are carrying on a conversation, asking and answering questions with their buddies. Deliver the letters your students have written to your buddy class and wait for the response letters to arrive! Your students will be so excited to get a note from their buddy and soon you’ll find that you are fostering a great friendship between the two classes. You can make this exchange as long or as short as you’d like. I have found that the years I allowed my students to continue writing to their buddies all the way until May were the most rewarding, but you’ll see the improvement in students’ writing even if you are only able to dedicate a month to this activity. Either way it is a perfect practice for increasing proficiency in letter writing while fostering a friendly school environment.

    Student writing a letter to his upper grade writing buddy.

    Student writing a letter to his upper grade writing buddy.

    • Holiday Cards for School Helpers

    Many of the staff and volunteers at school go unappreciated throughout the year, so December’s National Write to a Friend Month can be a great time to have students write cards to thank their school helpers. Begin by making a list with students of all of the people who help make school great: specials teachers (art, music, P.E., library, computers, etc.), parent volunteers, maintenance workers, office staff, etc. Provide students with paper and decorating supplies like coloring utensils and stickers to create holiday cards to thank these school helpers. Once students have written their thank you letters they can go around the school and deliver their cheerful messages to each recipient. It is a great way to spread some good feelings right around the holidays while practicing writing friendly letters.

     
     

    Make Your Own Class Mailbox

     

    Students will get so excited to practice letter writing if they have a real class mailbox for their letters! Here’s a cute cardboard classroom mailbox craft you can make on your own or with your students. Just set the mailbox up in the writing center of your classroom and allow students to "mail" the letters that they write for classmates, teachers, upper grade buddies, or any other personnel at school. You can practice addressing envelopes as well, adding another fun dimension to National Write to a Friend Month.

    [brightcove:5228545344001]

    Materials:

    • Cardboard box

    • Sturdy piece of poster board or other bendable cardboard for the top

    • Blue paint (either acrylic paint or spray paint)

    • Paintbrushes (if you are using acrylic paint)

    • Scissors

    • Tape

    • Optional: decorations to make it look like a mailbox, including a flag or printouts of the U.S. Postal Service logo

    Directions:

    1. Cut off the two smaller sides of your cardboard box, leaving the top and bottom open. The bottom will remain open so you can access letters that students place inside.

    2. Cut a piece of poster board or other bendable cardboard to fit as an arch over the top of the cardboard box base.

    3. Cut a hole in one side of the mailbox’s arched top into which students can insert their letters.

    4. Trace the sides of your arched mailbox top onto a piece of poster board or cardboard to create sides for the top of the mailbox, completely sealing in the inside of the box.

    5. Tape the arched top and its two sides across the top of the cardboard box.

    6. Paint the outside of the mailbox blue. I chose to use spray paint because it leaves a more uniform finish, but if your students are making the mailbox with you then I would recommend acrylic paint.

    7. After the box has dried, add optional decorations to complete the look, like a red mail flag or U.S. Postal Service logo.

     
     

    Design Your Own Winter Stamp

     

    One final activity for your class to celebrate National Write to a Friend Month this December is to have each student design their own postage stamp. Use this template to print out blank stamp shapes onto a sheet of labels (sized to fit two stamps on each label of Avery 5160). Give each child a sheet (or half sheet or single line strip) of blank stamps to decorate. Show students examples of real postage stamps. Many times they feature famous people and places or have seasonal themes with animals or holiday decorations. Allow your students to get creative as they make their own stamps. Then have them use their stamps on the envelopes they use to send letters within the school. For some more ideas on designing your own stamps, check out fellow blogger Alycia Zimmerman's post on designing a stamp. It’s so much fun to get into the real spirit of letter writing and mailing this December!

    Have students decorate their own postage stamps for sending class letters.
     

    I hope you were able to get some new ideas for teaching your students all about letter writing during the month of December. If you try any of these activities I'd love to hear about it! Leave a comment below with your own twist on National Write to a Friend Month. Happy holidays!

    December is so full of festive fun that often we miss out on another perfect holiday filled with learning opportunities: National Write to a Friend Month! The month of December is slated as a time to stop what you’re doing and drop a note to a friend.

    In first and second grade, students are learning to be more confident writers and beginning to move past the standard narrative to write in a variety of genres. As such, writing a letter to a friend can be a wonderful way to polish one’s writing skills, practice communicating effectively, and spread a little cheer to the ones you love. Here are some ideas for you to include National Write to a Friend month in your classroom this December.

     

    Children’s Books With Friendly Letters

    The Jolly Postman has always been one of my favorite stories from childhood. The book rhymes its way through the tale of a postman who delivers mail to famous storybook characters, stopping at each house for some tea and interaction with everyone from the Big Bad Wolf to Goldilocks. I think part of what makes this story so intriguing for young students is that each storybook character receives a letter, card, advertising flyer, or other special delivery that you can actually remove from a built-in envelope and read yourself. I remember being so excited to open Cinderella’s mini-storybook or read the postcard from Jack to the Giant of the beanstalk, and I see the same enthusiasm in my students as they enjoy this story today. For more ideas on how to use this book full of postal deliveries in your classroom, check out Genia Connell’s lesson plan Once Upon a Pop-Up Book.

    This story is new to my classroom library, but quickly became a go-to resource for showing students examples of letter writing appropriate to their early elementary levels. In this short and simple story we meet a young girl, Emilia, who corresponds with her teacher, Mr. Blueberry, throughout the summer. Emilia is convinced there is a whale living in her family’s pond, and while Mr. Blueberry shares information to try and help Emilia understand the facts vs. fiction of whales, we also see a sweet relationship develop between the teacher and student as he tries his best to encourage her imaginative spirit. One thing I really like about this story is that is provides a great example for students of the kind of respectful correspondence that can take place between a child and an adult. I always make sure to stop and show students how one should address their audience in a letter, include important information in conversation format, and end their letter with a friendly salutation, all characteristics that are present in the letters of this story.

    I’m back to my love for fairy tales with this story, but I just can’t help it! I think that Dear Cinderella is such a creative idea for a children’s book and a wonderful resource for teaching letter writing in the classroom. Throughout this book students are able to watch the friendship between Cinderella and Snow White unfold, beginning when both girls were still living under the awful conditions of their evil stepmothers. We as readers are given only letters from each fairy tale character to read as we see the famous stories progress to happily ever after. The book provides solid examples of letters written between close friends, making sure to include not only information about yourself and your own life, but also to respond to and inquire about your friend’s life as well. This can be a tricky skill for first and second graders to learn, but Cinderella and Snow White do such an excellent job of carrying on a written conversation throughout this story that your students will be able to get the hang of it in no time!

    Three books to read as you introduce your students to letter writing.
     

    Free Printable Stationery

     

    Once your students have read some great examples of friendly letters through children’s books like those mentioned above, they should start practicing writing notes of their own. A fabulous way to motivate students to write lots of letters is by providing them with fun stationery, colored pens and pencils, and even envelopes in your writing center. Make sure to let your students use their imaginations when writing, getting creative by adding illustrations, color and any other fun decor they may choose. To stock up your letter writing area, print out these three free stationery pages from Scholastic Printables.

    Three free stationery pages you can download from Scholastic Printables.
     

    Letter Writing Activities

    • In-Class Mystery Pen Pals

    Much like the Secret Santa practice in December, you can get your students excited about writing letters by implementing in-class mystery pen pals. Begin by secretly assigning each student in your class the name of a fellow classmate. Be sure to impress upon your students the importance of not telling anyone the identity of their pen pal. Students should be given about 10 minutes each day (this is a great morning work or transition time activity) to write a letter to their secret pen pal. They can include information about their day, tell a funny story or even compliment their pen pal on a job well done in class. The most important thing to remember is that instead of signing their names, students should close their letters as “Your mystery pen pal.” You may choose whether or not you want to allow students to respond to their pen pals, or if you would prefer a one-way dialogue. If you want to allow students to write back to their mystery pen pals, then you would just have to make each student hand in their response letters to you so that you can give them to the matching classmate. This practice can continue for multiple days or weeks, ending with a final letter where the students sign their names on their last cards, revealing their identities to their pen pals. It is so fun to watch how excited students become about carrying on secret conversations and you’d be surprised what a great job they do at not letting the secret slip before the appropriate time.

    • Upper Grade Writing Buddies

    As teachers we are all aware of the benefit of scaffolding as a teaching strategy as well as the power of modeling to provide young students with examples of well-written texts. You can harness this power through the use of upper grade writing buddies. Begin by finding a colleague who would be willing to have his or her upper grade students become writing buddies with your first or second graders. Plan a day when you can get both of your classes together, pairing one older student and one younger student as writing buddies. Give the partners a chance to chat for a while and get to know one another. Then tell the students that they will be able to continue their conversations and build their friendship through letters. At least once a week provide time for your students to write to their upper grade buddies. Remind students to follow the friendly letter format and to make sure they are carrying on a conversation, asking and answering questions with their buddies. Deliver the letters your students have written to your buddy class and wait for the response letters to arrive! Your students will be so excited to get a note from their buddy and soon you’ll find that you are fostering a great friendship between the two classes. You can make this exchange as long or as short as you’d like. I have found that the years I allowed my students to continue writing to their buddies all the way until May were the most rewarding, but you’ll see the improvement in students’ writing even if you are only able to dedicate a month to this activity. Either way it is a perfect practice for increasing proficiency in letter writing while fostering a friendly school environment.

    Student writing a letter to his upper grade writing buddy.

    Student writing a letter to his upper grade writing buddy.

    • Holiday Cards for School Helpers

    Many of the staff and volunteers at school go unappreciated throughout the year, so December’s National Write to a Friend Month can be a great time to have students write cards to thank their school helpers. Begin by making a list with students of all of the people who help make school great: specials teachers (art, music, P.E., library, computers, etc.), parent volunteers, maintenance workers, office staff, etc. Provide students with paper and decorating supplies like coloring utensils and stickers to create holiday cards to thank these school helpers. Once students have written their thank you letters they can go around the school and deliver their cheerful messages to each recipient. It is a great way to spread some good feelings right around the holidays while practicing writing friendly letters.

     
     

    Make Your Own Class Mailbox

     

    Students will get so excited to practice letter writing if they have a real class mailbox for their letters! Here’s a cute cardboard classroom mailbox craft you can make on your own or with your students. Just set the mailbox up in the writing center of your classroom and allow students to "mail" the letters that they write for classmates, teachers, upper grade buddies, or any other personnel at school. You can practice addressing envelopes as well, adding another fun dimension to National Write to a Friend Month.

    [brightcove:5228545344001]

    Materials:

    • Cardboard box

    • Sturdy piece of poster board or other bendable cardboard for the top

    • Blue paint (either acrylic paint or spray paint)

    • Paintbrushes (if you are using acrylic paint)

    • Scissors

    • Tape

    • Optional: decorations to make it look like a mailbox, including a flag or printouts of the U.S. Postal Service logo

    Directions:

    1. Cut off the two smaller sides of your cardboard box, leaving the top and bottom open. The bottom will remain open so you can access letters that students place inside.

    2. Cut a piece of poster board or other bendable cardboard to fit as an arch over the top of the cardboard box base.

    3. Cut a hole in one side of the mailbox’s arched top into which students can insert their letters.

    4. Trace the sides of your arched mailbox top onto a piece of poster board or cardboard to create sides for the top of the mailbox, completely sealing in the inside of the box.

    5. Tape the arched top and its two sides across the top of the cardboard box.

    6. Paint the outside of the mailbox blue. I chose to use spray paint because it leaves a more uniform finish, but if your students are making the mailbox with you then I would recommend acrylic paint.

    7. After the box has dried, add optional decorations to complete the look, like a red mail flag or U.S. Postal Service logo.

     
     

    Design Your Own Winter Stamp

     

    One final activity for your class to celebrate National Write to a Friend Month this December is to have each student design their own postage stamp. Use this template to print out blank stamp shapes onto a sheet of labels (sized to fit two stamps on each label of Avery 5160). Give each child a sheet (or half sheet or single line strip) of blank stamps to decorate. Show students examples of real postage stamps. Many times they feature famous people and places or have seasonal themes with animals or holiday decorations. Allow your students to get creative as they make their own stamps. Then have them use their stamps on the envelopes they use to send letters within the school. For some more ideas on designing your own stamps, check out fellow blogger Alycia Zimmerman's post on designing a stamp. It’s so much fun to get into the real spirit of letter writing and mailing this December!

    Have students decorate their own postage stamps for sending class letters.
     

    I hope you were able to get some new ideas for teaching your students all about letter writing during the month of December. If you try any of these activities I'd love to hear about it! Leave a comment below with your own twist on National Write to a Friend Month. Happy holidays!

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