Choose the activity below that is best suited to your class.
Ask students if they have ever received a letter from a friend or pen pal. Have them briefly share their examples. Next, ask if they have ever written a letter to anyone.
Cluster the ideas that suggest the attributes of a letter to a friend: informal, personalized, shares secrets, shares private thoughts
Familiarize students with observational writing by asking them to prepare to write to a friend about something they are about to see. Then select five students to play the scene. One student should represent the school bully, who is trying to butt into the lunch line. The other students in line try to reason with him, but he is insistent about getting in front of the line, which he does because no one wants a fight. This activity should take one minute.
Now ask students to write a letter to a friend about what they just saw and how it made them feel. Allow about six minutes to write the letter and make sure you engage in the task, too. When they have finished, have them share their letters with a neighbor,or ask one or two volunteers to read what they have written. You can start by sharing your response first.
Ask students what each of these letters had in common, other than the description of the event itself.
- Each told about what the writer saw.
- Each told how the writer felt about what was seen.
- Each letter was personal.
Tell students that they have just described observational writing: It always includes something that has been seen, and the writer's feelings about it.
Tell students they are going to read a story that is actually a letter written by a girl to her best friend about some things she saw. Ask students to predict what the letter will include.
Option 2: Before distributing the book, cover the title and ask students to study the cover illustration. Ask them to make the following predictions:
- What is the mood of this story, and how do you know?
- When do you think the story takes place, and why do you think so?
- What do you think this story could be about?
Then uncover the title, and ask students to think about it. Ask them to predict:
- where the story takes place
- when it takes place
- why it takes places
- who is involved
Record students' predictions on the board. They may include:
- The girl on the cover is Nettie.
- She probably lives in a city in the North.
- She probably took her trip on a train.
- She probably saw black people working.
- The black people could have been slaves.
Distribute the book, and read the sentence on the back cover:
“All I have heard of slavery seemed unreal until now that I see for myself.”
- What do you know about slavery?
- Why might slavery seem “unreal” to a girl from the North?
List responses on the board, and discuss them briefly at this time. Ask students to see if their predictions are correct or not as they listen to the story.