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“The Lost Art” of Letter Writing

This photo was taken, when I was at sleep away camp, in July 1990 on the summit of Mt. Washington. (I climbed to the top of the mountain, along with some other campers and counselors, that summer.) I remember writing a lot of letters that summer (and even postcards from the top of Mt. Washington).

I was recently talking with a friend whose daughter was spending the summer at sleep away camp.  I was curious about how she was going to communicate with her since e-mail and texting are so prevalent.  She told me her daughter wasn’t allowed to bring a smart phone and that the computer lab wasn’t open to campers.  However, I wasn’t sure that all camps were like the one my friend’s daughter was going to attend.  It’s possible that there are sleep away camps where kids are allowed to use technology to communicate with the outside world, right?

Last week USA Today ran an article, “Can summer camps revive the lost art of letter writing?”  I was eager to read the article since I attended sleep away camp and was an avid letter writer.  But that was back in the late 80’s/early 90’s when I had never heard of e-mail and I didn’t own a cell phone.  As I read the article, written by Todd Plitt, I was enthralled by the fact that the girls in the story were using the same kinds of cutesy stationery I remember writing on when I sent letters home or to my non-camp friends.  However, I’m not so foolish as to think that hand-written letters are going to make a come back as a result of children spending time at summer camp.  I, for one, rarely hand write letters to friends.  I use e-mail or jot something on a friend’s Facebook wall.  It’s faster.  It’s easier.  And quite frankly, it’s cheaper.

When I taught fifth grade, I always taught a unit on persuasive letter writing.  The same unit continued when I transitioned to fourth grade, but a friendly letter unit was also added.  However, I don’t think we taught a friendly letter unit my second year in fourth grade since we had to make room for something else.  In hindsight, I think this may have been a disservice to the students since kids aren’t really receiving instruction on how to write letters to other people (A skill that’s important anytime you’re going to send an e-mail!) anywhere other than school.  Factor in the whole “addressing the envelope” issue and letter writing becomes even more important.

So, I’m wondering, is letter writing a unit of study (or even a mini unit of study) that should stay in elementary school writing workshops?  Or, is it more important to teach something else.  Please take the poll below and share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

Stacey Shubitz View All

Literacy Consultant. Author. Former 4th and 5th Grade Classroom Teacher.

8 thoughts on ““The Lost Art” of Letter Writing Leave a comment

  1. That picture of you! 1990! Do you realize you were hiking just minutes from Don Graves’ house then? That’s crazy, isn’t it!

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  2. Every year my letter writing unit gets bigger! I think letter writing is a great for young writers to identify “voice.” We learn to writes notes of congratulation to teachers who win awards or classes who are recognized for accomplishments. We learn to write “on behalf of the class” letters. One letter is chosen to send. Or one student is chosen to write the letter. We learn to write thank you notes. Will these children pick up a pen rather than log on? I doubt it, but it doesn’t matter. My father used to say, ” There is no greater social skill than the right note at the right time.” I’m glad to have learned it and happy to pass it on to my students.

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  3. First off, I love this website and have gleaned many wonderful ideas, so thank you!

    I think letter writing is extremely important. I still have pen pals: one from when I was five who lives in England. Although there is email, we still write letters the old fashioned way. My other pen pal also lives in England but is 90 years old and I only met her once for ten minutes. I have gotten to know her through her beautiful letters. I share this with the students.

    In November, I teach my fifth graders how to write friendly letters and have them write to anyone they know (friend, relative, etc.) to explain how grateful they are for that person. They address the envelopes and we send them out. They love it!

    Then, later on in the year, I teach how to write a business letter. We compare the two formats. They choose a company that they like and write to them praising them for something. This year I then asked them to see how the company was involved with being “green.” The kids will often times receive responses and love getting their own mail. This past year I compiled their letters and responses into a binder so anyone could read them.

    Letter writing, to me, is an art, and I think it is highly worth it to pass it on to our students. Sending them out into the real world is an authentic experience and they learn a great deal.

    Sue, I have been one of those teachers to recieve a letter from a former student discussing the impact I had on them. Those are the best letters. Thank you.

    Great job Stacey and Ruth. Keep it up!

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  4. @Tara: That’s great! My kids used to write reader’s letters to me, as part of Reading Workshop, when they finished books.
    Not sure if you saw the postings on our FB page (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Two-Writing-Teachers/99419559826?ref=mf), but my former colleague from NY, Halli Moskowitz, and I had our students writing thank you letters all of the time to patrons who funded classroom projects through DonorsChoose. Forgot about that ’til Halli reminded me.

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  5. We do the persuasive letter as a unit, and kids use the friendly letter format to write to me twice a week in their Reading Journals, but what kids really like to do is write letters for their own reasons. I have an old mailbox in my classroom with a stack of cool stationary (the stationary idea comes from Nancie Atwell) and find that my kids (even from past years) like to write to each other or to me and drop these off for me (their postman) to deliver. So, Stacey, we do have avid letter writers even among the texting mavens of today!

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  6. I am a 7th and 8th grade writing teacher in a pre K through 8th school. Every June I have students write letters of appreciation to past teachers. This unit not only gives students a chance to practice an important skill in writing, it encourages the social skill of expressing gratitude. The staff has come to look forward to their letters at a time of year when they are exhausted and in need of confirmation that what they do has an impact on their students.

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