Friendly Letter Writing: Authentic Purposes for Writing


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.


  • 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.