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Friendly Letter Writing: Authentic Purposes for Writing

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Chronicle Books is my go-to place for buying stationery.

Even though I use e-mail, iMessage, WhatsApp, Facebook, and Voxer to keep in touch with friends and family, I still send lots of mail. That’s right, I regularly buy notecards. I’m also one of those old-fashioned people who still buys and sends paper birthday cards to close friends and family members. In this day when most of the items in our mailboxes are either bills or catalogs, there’s something nice about a missive in my mailbox.

We tend to think about writing workshop in terms of units of study or genre. Because our time is limited, we rarely carve out time for students to write independently, let alone provide them with time to correspond with people just because. But we should because the sharing of stories, which is often part of a well-written letter, binds us together.

A couple of weeks ago I received this card from a friend and it brightened my day.
A couple of weeks ago I received this card from a friend and it brightened my day.

Several years ago, before the Maker Space movement began, I had a Writing Gift Center in my fourth-grade classroom. The center contained items like decorative paper, stickers, ribbon, paper punches, and fancy makers. My students could write letters or type up other pieces of writing (e.g., personal narratives, poetry), decorate them in the Writing Gift Center, and then give their writing to someone as a present. More often than not, my students decorated letters in this center because they knew a letter could touch someone in a way that a monetary gift or object couldn’t. Letters capture moments in time. Sending a letter or a card in today’s fast-paced world helps us slow down and serves as a reminder that someone cares about us. I believe that’s worth something.

We can inspire students who are accustom to texting, FaceTime, and Snapchat, to make time for letter writing. As adults, it’s likely we have treasured letters. (I have a box of letters in my basement, many of which are correspondence from my beloved grandmother, that transport me back in time when I read them.)  We can dig out some of the most meaningful letters we’ve saved and share our favorites with our students. We can also inspire kids to write letters by writing letters to our students. Teacher-written letters are sure to put a smile on students’ faces, especially if they aren’t used to receiving lots of missives.

Here are a few additional things you can do to inspire your students to engage in letter writing.

  • Provide time for letter writing. Find 15 – 20 minutes you can steal from your schedule weekly or bi-weekly. Drop everything and encourage students to compose a letter to a friend or family member.
    • Make time to model what a good letter can look like since some kids may have never received an old-fashioned letter in the mail.
    • Provide some mentor texts (i.e., letters you’ve written or received) to inspire your students.
  • Don’t have time for students to write letters? Send postcards! My father recently started sending my six-year-old daughter postcards from New York City. Each one contains a couple of sentences plus a picture of a landmark he plans to take her to this summer when she visits. To say she loves receiving these “Postcards from Zayde” is an understatement.
    • Again, take time to model how to write a postcard.
  • Create a Writing Maker Space in your classroom. Kathleen and Deb wrote about this last year. Click to read “The Freedom to Create” and “The Promise of a Writing Maker Space.”
  • Encourage written correspondence as an option for an independent writing project. For more on independent writing projects click here. If you are unfamiliar with Colleen Cruz’s book, Independent Writing: One Teacher — Thirty-Two Topics, Needs, and Plans (Heinemann, 2004), then you’ll want to check it out to learn how to help your students engage in independent writing projects.

As teachers, we’re always thinking about providing students with a meaningful audience for their writing. Letter writing is one way to help kids think deeply about audience since they’re writing to a specific person with every letter they write.

GIVEAWAY INFORMATION

  • heard_cover_smallThis giveaway is for one copy of Heart Maps: Helping Students Create and Craft Authentic Writing by Georgia Heard. Many thanks to Heinemann for donating a copy of this book.
  • For a chance to win one copy of Heart Maps: Helping Students Create and Craft Authentic Writing, please leave a reaction to any post in the blog series, including this one, by Sunday, February 5th at 11:59 p.m. EDT. Lisa Keeler will use a random number generator to pick the winner, whose names she will announce in our blog series’ IN CASE YOU MISSED IT POST on Monday, February 6th.
  • You may leave one comment on every post in our Authentic Purposes for Writing blog series, which runs January 30th – February 5th.    
  • Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win. From there, our contact at Heinemann will ship your book out to you.  (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)
    • Heinemann will only ship the book to a winner in the United States. If you live outside of the U.S. and wish to be considered for this giveaway, you must have a U.S. mailing address.
  • If you are the winner of the book, I will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – HEART MAPS. Please respond to my e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. Unfortunately, a new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.

Stacey Shubitz View All

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

44 thoughts on “Friendly Letter Writing: Authentic Purposes for Writing Leave a comment

  1. We added Thank You Thursday to our class this year. Every Thursday we hand write a thank you note to someone. This week we focused on friends and what makes a good friend and the difference between “You’re nice” and “When you compliment me on my writing it makes me feel good about myself. I appreciate that you take time to read my work.”
    Slowly, they are getting there. And the recipients are so warmed by their notes.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. At my school our kindergartners honor their grandparents near Valentines’ Day. Writing a letter to their grandparents will be part of that celebration this year. Thanks for a great post.

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  3. I love this idea. I am rethinking my classroom to make Writing Gift Center. I send home a pre-stamped postcard at the end of the school year to write me over the summer. I think the students would enjoy sending postcards throughout the year.

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  4. What a simple, yet effective idea to incorporate into every classroom. Creating a Writing Gift Center is something I plan to start TODAY. Thank you, as always, for the inspiration and great ideas!

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  5. Every time one of my students brings me a coffee, snack, lunch or gift, I send a postcard of thanks. Finding something personal in a mailbox filled with bills and junk mail totally makes my day. I try to do that for my students. You just gave me a great idea for a topic I will suggest to my students as we prepare for the Classroom Slice of Life Story Challenge. Thanks!

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  6. I participated in a New Year’s poetry postcard exchange. I loved getting real postcards and letters in the mail. This Valentine’s Day, I think I will make letter writing a goal for writing workshop. Thanks. (I have a copy of Heart Maps, so do not put me in the drawing.)

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  7. My sixth grade students have learned the power of letter writing. Each time they on a field trip that requires a parent chaperone, each student writes a thank you note to the parent volunteer expressing his/her gratitude to them for giving up their time to accompany us. Parents love these letters and students learn the importance of acknowledging what others do for them.

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  8. We are doing a mini- unit on writing friendly letters RIGHT NOW to help my students focus on writing for readers & really work on those conventions. They are loving it & writing up a storm. I love the idea of making time for letter writing every week (every day seems less doable.

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  9. I love the idea of giving students time and space to write letters! This was such a big part of my own growing up and I still try to tap into snail mail for friends and family. I can remember my friends and I in elementary school making up the “mailman fan club” and leaving pretend fan mail for the mailman! If our students can see there are so many different ways to engage in a wriiterly life, they may see the benefit to writing skills outside of the school setting.

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  10. When I first began teaching it was in a small preschool. The director sent hand-written notes to us teachers at the beginning of each month, encouraging us to be the best we can be – introducing the monthly theme – and telling us how much we were valued. I found out later that she did the same for many, many, many of her former students whenever she saw their name in the local paper, heard it in the news, or visited with a family member. I carry that idea with me to this day, and try hard to be that person for someone…
    Thanks for this post.

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  11. Thank you for refreshing my mind about an exciting way to motivate my second graders to do authentic real-world writing! They’re going to love it. My girls at home just wrote letters to their great grandfather and thank you notes for their Christmas gifts two weeks ago. I love the idea of them being able to do this in class (my students) as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I have always encouraged letter writing I all the grades that I have taught. My first model is to make a card for each child before the year starts and to let them them know I am excited to be their teacher and a few of the things we will do over the year. At least once a month we write a letter as an assignment, often more times, and I have a well stocked letter writing center. I send birthday cards and one postcard during the summer to my former students to let them know how much I enjoyed working with them.
    Thank you for your inspiration.
    Marianne

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Stacey, I treasure getting cards and letters from friends. I have many from you. 🙂

    Maddie’s grandma created a beautiful kit of stationery, stamps, and envelopes and gave it to Maddie for her bday. Isn’t that a great gift??

    Liked by 1 person

  14. What a wonderful idea. I have had a writer’s maker space in my classroom for many years. My kindergartners LOVE making cards for friends and family!

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  15. In the past, before Units of Study was adopted in my district, I had a card center. It’s been on a back shelf in my closet. But not for long! Thanks for sharing this “session” liberating post!

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  16. Thank you for sharing about writing for authentic purposes. I love the idea of a writing gift center. I plan on checking out Chronicle Books for stationery.

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  17. I recently sent postcards to family members while on a trip and several commented that they loved getting them. I sent each of my students a Happy New Year/thank you card over winter break and for many it was their first ever mail. I notice more letters being written during free time:)

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  18. I agree that letters are a special form of communication between people. My students write to soldiers stationed overseas, and they love getting letters back. I love the idea of a Letter Making Station, that I will try.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. My students just wrote friendly letters to go along with a story we read. In the story a little girl writes a letter apologizing for bringing a snake into the library, which the librarian is truly afraid of. My students wrote letters from Mr. Winston’s point of view stating whether or not they accepted the girl’s apology. They did a remarkable job and had a lot of fun with it as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wonderful reminder of the importance of letter writing! Almost a lost art! Kids love writing cards and letters to friends. This is a choice every week in my classroom!

      Liked by 2 people

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