Atwell’s work supplies a multitude of ideas, but one that strikes me is her idea that teachers should teach world applications of writing. That is to say, writing should go beyond the five paragraph essay. Students need to understand that literate educated people write all the time for a number of reasons. If students are to grow as writers they need to be taught all types of writing. One of the genres Atwell teaches is letter writing.
Letter writing may seem pretty standard or even out of touch with today’s tech world, but Atwell helps her students to understand that proper letter writing continues to be important. Her students learn to write a proper letter, but they also apply it beyond the classroom. For instance, one of her student’s grandmother passed away. So, Atwell decided to teach a mini lesson on how to write a proper condolence letter. Another student was upset about a local happening, so Atwell and her students brainstormed effective ways to state their feelings about it and what solutions could be taken, and sent the letter to the local news station. Atwell brightens her students interest in language because they use it in their own lives, and get their voices heard. Students know that their writing isn’t just for a grade. Their writing makes a difference for themselves, their families, and the community.
This idea struck me, and then my principal tweeted an article about creating pen pals with other countries. I thought, “Wow, this might be a way for my students to use letter writing within the classroom.” The pen pal program partners your class up with another classroom in almost any country in the world. The teacher can choose what countries interest her, so I chose Germany, Austria, or Japan because we will be studying the texts, The Diary of Anne Frank and Weedflower starting in August or September. My class last year desperately wanted to visit Germany and the Anne Frank Museum after studying the text. Developing pen pals may help bring the book alive for my new students, and bring them a little closer to the country. I hope to hear from the program soon.
Other ideas come to my mind that could promote letter writing for students:
- Have students read the local newspaper. They could respond to opinion columns.
- Read magazines such as Scholastic Scope. They often have articles where students can respond back to them.
- Write local government.
- This is so empowering–I wrote to President Reagan in elementary school and he sent me a letter back with an ink print of his dog’s paw! I cherished it!
- In high school, a bad road caused me to bust two tires on my car. I wrote a letter to the mayor and a month later the pot holes were fixed.
- Write to manufacturers.
- I knew several boys in high school that as soon as their Timberland boots started showing a little wear they would mail them back to the manufacturer with a letter stating that their product was defective. Amazingly the company always sent the boys a brand new pair of boots. Now, that is a smart way to use your writing skills!
- Write thank you notes
- Thank you notes are a dying art, but isn’t so nice to be thanked. I think that’s one we can bring back!
Teachers don’t spend much time on letter writing anymore, but I’m excited about using it in my instruction this year. I hope my students will see how useful a great letter can be.
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Founded in 1956 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, PTPI promotes international understanding and friendship through educational, cultural and humanitarian activities.