Thanksgiving is the perfect time to immerse students in an authentic writing experience. In my class, we write friendly letters to give thanks to a family member, friend, neighbor, or former teacher who has had an impact on our lives. Although my goal is to teach the friendly letter, the students learn the value of taking the time to let others know how much they inspire us and how much we appreciate them. Included in this article is a SMART Notebook lesson and a video that illustrates how to use the interactive components.
ÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂLetters are among the most significant memorial a person can leave behind them.ÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂ
~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
With text messages, email, and online social networking, are we behind the times when we teach friendly letters? I feel it is an even more valuable lesson. The modern avenues of informal communication are quick, but the words can be lost forever with a click of the delete button. On the other hand, friendly letters are keepsakes. They become historical documents or primary resources.
I begin my lesson with the question of the day: ÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂWhy is it important to write letters to our family and friends?" I share my experiences of letter writing with my students, and explain that since my daughter was young, I have written her a letter every Christmas. In each letter, I capture our family history for the year, elaborate on her many accomplishments, and remind her of how much I love her. She is 18 years old now, and it is still one of her favorite Christmas gifts. As Goethe says, these letters will be my memorial, a primary document containing our family history. Once my 6th graders see what a gift words can be, they are excited to participate.
This activity takes about four 40-minute class periods. When we are finished, my students will have written a friendly letter, addressed an envelope, and mailed their letters. I have them mail the letters from school ÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂ even if the person they are writing lives in the same home. Many of my students come back to school and share how their loved ones cherish the letters. Many recipients of these letters (parents, grandparents, and teachers) have stopped by my room at school to share how much they treasure them.The video below provides an overview of the lesson and illustrates how to use the interactive components.
Although all traits of writing are important, I created a friendly letter weighted rubric (PDF) because I feel some traits should weigh more than others, depending upon the goal. For instance, some students are more skilled at conventions, sentence fluency, and presentation, but they misinterpret the task or get confused. Others get the ideas, but struggle with conventions and presentation. The weighted rubric for the friendly letter gives more weight to the traits that are more significant at this point of the school year: Ideas, Organization, Sentence Fluency, and Conventions. Please feel free to download the rubric in Microsoft Word, so you can edit it to fit your classroom needs.
Ask the students if they have ever received a letter. If they have, how did it make them feel? Explain the significance of letter writing. Show the music video,"Letters From War" by Mark Schultz. Another option is to watch the trailer from a recently released movie, Letters to Juliet, starring Amanda Seyfried, Vanessa Redgrave, Gael GarcÃÂÃÂa Bernal, and Franco Nero. Discuss how the letters are important to the people who wrote them and to the people who read them.
When writing the first paragraph, I tell my students to use their manners and start the letter by inquiring about their friend first. They can voice any concerns or ask about recent events in their friendÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂs life. I have them focus on one or two things that stand out the most.
Before closing the first paragraph, I tell them to explain why they are writing. You might want to guide them by saying, ÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂI am writing this letter to thank you for ____________.ÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂ
In the second paragraph, the students talk about themselves. They explain why this person is important or how the family member or friend inspired them. The letter is more meaningful if the students share a story and/or memory, explaining their feelings of excitement, joy, acceptance, understanding, comfort, peace, security, confidence, etc. They close the paragraph by thanking their friend once more.
If students require more guided support, the Friendly Letter Graphic Organizer will help them put the details in order according to the parts of the letter.
After we finish this project, students use the friendly letter handouts to guide them in independent letter writing activities. They continue to write family and friends whenever they want. In addition, they have the option of choosing friendly letters for writing assignments and contests, such as: