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Have you every taught your students how to write a letter? An actual paper letter? Not an email but a letter you send in the mail. It is a dying art but it is a fun and important unit to teach.
Letter writing was one of my favorite writing units to teach my second graders, so I was naturally overjoyed when my 4 year old suddenly developed an interest in writing and mailing letters. Her excitement came from her new found ability to write letters and words and a picture book we have called Stanley the Mailman. She loved all the pictures of the different supplies they might use in a post office and requested her own. Because I used to teach this unit every year, I had some supplies in the basement and ran out and found a few more for her at the Dollar Tree and Walmart. To say she was excited with this new dramatic play area is an understatement. We have had it up for over a month and she still goes in there regularly to write letters. While I pulled out letter writing paper and the mailbox that I used in the classroom, I didn't do any real instruction on how to write a letter because I know she is a little young for that. It got me thinking though about teaching the unit in the classroom and I thought of some ideas to make teaching a letter writing unit easier in your classroom.
Start off the year with letter writinga letter writing unit before we jumped into any of the curriculum required genres. This worked for several reasons. First, it is a fun unit. My students loved it every year so it was a way to get them to love writing from the beginning. Second, it set the expectation for the rest of the year that they knew how to write letters so if I gave writing a letter as a reading assignment or asked them to write a letter home to their parents or an apology letter to a friend they hurt, they knew how to do it.
Use picture books as modelsThere are so many GREAT books out there that show examples of letters and share different reasons why we write letters. I compiled a list of some of the books I used during this unit and it is included in my Letter Writing unit. I'll highlight just a few favorites and why I love them!
Ten Thank You Letters is a new to me book so I didn't have it when I was in the classroom. I like it because not only does it show letters in action, but you also see one character who writes quick letters and his friend who takes his time and adds lots of details to his thank you letter. This was something we were always talking about - adding details to the letter and what else can you write about in a letter.
I Wanna Iguana is a funny story of a mom and son writing back and forth in letter format as he tries to persuade her to let him get a pet. I like to use it as an example of one reason why we write letters - persuade people.
Dear Mr. Blueberry is a cute story about a little girl writing letters back and forth to her teacher. It is great to show the format of a letter.
Create anchor charts and samples
Use it as a time to learn about addresses
With my second graders, I would make sure that a few days of our unit were spent learning how to address envelopes with the key skill here being learning their own address. It was scary how many of them had no idea what their address was. They would tell me the subdivision they lived in but that was it. We would practice the correct format for writing an address and it was an expectation all year long that when they wrote letters and put them in envelopes, they would write their return address on it.
Give them real world practiceOnce we finished up our official letter writing unit during writer's workshop time, we still continued writing letters. For us, it became an activity that they could do during choice time - write a letter to a friend in our classroom or reply to a letter a friend sent you. We also wanted them to see ways that they could use letters in the real world (even if it is a dying art) so throughout the year we would:
-write thank you letters to volunteers, guest speakers, visitors, etc.
-write apology letters to parents, other teachers and students if we made a bad choice
-write to penpals
-write to family members during the Flat Stanley project
-write a letter in response to a story we read
I could go on and on with ways to make writing applicable to your students, but the point is that once the unit stops, the letter writing doesn't have to stop.
Set up a letter writing center in your classroom
I set up a letter writing center in my classroom that was similar to my daughter's dramatic play version. I included different types of writing paper - various lengths and line sizes.
I hope this gave you a few ideas for how you could start incorporating letter writing in your classroom. It can start out as a dramatic play area for younger children and develop into a letter writing unit where lower ele students learn the correct format and then take it a step further and have upper grade students focus on types of letters and writing persuasive letters. You can find my letter writing unit HERE to get you started.