This unit plan from the Academy of American Poets encourages students to explore poems by historical and contemporary poets.
- Write formal letters to poets who are present Chancellors of the Academy of American Poets that include:
- 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
- Student journals or writing paper
- Students' notes from the Reading Poems by the Academy Chancellors lesson
- Whiteboard or chart paper for class use
- Computers with printer access for student use
Whole Class Warm-Up
Step 1: Explain to 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 2: Have 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 3: Ask students to get into writing groups of three students each, with students who are familiar with their writing.
Step 4: In their groups, students should take turns sharing their completions to the sentence stem.
Step 5: Students who are listening should add constructive descriptions of the sharing student's voice that they think are missing. If nothing is missing, they can simply agree with the student's assessment.
Step 6: Students should go around the group members, sharing their stem completions and commenting until all students in each group have had a chance.
Step 7: When the groups 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 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 students 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 the best examples 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 basic format for a formal letter, including date, internal address, greeting with punctuation, and appropriate closing.
Step 2: Ask 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 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
Step 1: When students have finished writing their first drafts, place students in heterogeneous groups of four (or in their usual writing groups, if you do peer review regularly).
Step 2: Ask students to exchange letters within their groups so they each have someone else's.
Optional: If necessary, remind your students how to give constructive criticism, citing positives first and then specifics on what can be improved.
Step 3: Ask one student in each group to read aloud the letter she has to the other members of her group.
Step 4: 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 5: The writer should take notes and incorporate helpful comments, especially those where the reader's interpretation differed from the writer's intent.
Step 6: Continue the process in each group until all students have had their letters read back to them and recorded helpful comments.
Step 1: Ask students to rewrite their first drafts, paying attention to the comments they received from their peers.
Note: This can be accomplished either in class, combined in-class and
Step 2: Have 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 handwriting a final draft.
Submitting Letters to the Academy of American Poets
We encourage you to submit your students' letters to the Chancellors for possible publication on Poets.org in May 2019. Send all letters via post or email by April 30, 2019. Please include each student's first name, the student's grade level, the name of your school, and the poet that inspired his or her letter.
The Academy of American Poets
ATTN: Dear Poet
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: