As an introduction to letter writing, begin by discussing communication in general. Do we communicate the same way in every situation? If not, why is that?
This is a good place to revisit the element of TONE because letter writing is an extension of speaking. It's natural for kids to relate to various means of expression through voice, be it audible or written. For example, what tone is used when talking to a parent or teacher? How does that tone change in conversation with a friend? If you need assistance in a store, what tone do you take with the clerk who is helping you?
It's the same when you're writing a letter. Depending on the type of letter you craft, and for whom it's intended, your words and tone will be very different.
Additionally, the purpose of the letter, as well as the audience it's written for, will determine exactly how the letter is portrayed. The students must understand that different situations will call for very different letters. The old adage: KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE is a perfect one for this situation because the point of view and how ideas are described, will dictate the approach of the author.
Using the worksheet, the kids identify who they would direct the specific sentences toward. This is an easy way for them to relate to the purpose of writing, the tone change, and who their audience is, right after having the classroom discussion. They will complete this worksheet individually to demonstrate their understanding, and we can quickly review it right away.
*After the kids used the worksheet I noticed a few confusing aspects and changed them. The student example image of the worksheet is different than the final document.
For this activity, collect advertisements from Sunday's paper or round up some catalogs.
After discussing how the tone of a letter changes depending upon the audience intended, tell the kids they're going to write some brief letters with the audience in mind. Ahead of time, write prompts for various types of letters, even though these letter styles probably haven't been taught in your classroom yet. By fifth grade, they've seen them at some point. Below are the ones I use in my classroom:
Your birthday's coming up and your favorite cousin has asked you to write him or her a letter telling what you'd like as a birthday gift. Using the advertisements, choose your perfect birthday gift and write the letter.
You bought an item (you will identify from the advertisements,) but it broke/stopped working/fell apart. Write a letter to the manager of the store where you got the item asking for a replacement or a refund.
You find an advertisement misleading and want to let the company know. Write a letter to the CEO of the company to explain why.
Select an item you really want, from one of the advertisements. Write a persuasive letter to your parents asking for this item.
You find a spelling or punctuation error in the advertisement. Politely, write a letter to inform the store of this error and why you think it should be corrected.
The one above wasn't originally a prompt, but after a student actually discovered the error during this activity years ago, I decided to make it one. It was Presidents Day and the apostrophe was placed showing a personal possession (President's Day.) My kids all got in on the act and wrote polite letters to The RoomStore to let them know. We were shocked when The RoomStore central office contacted our classroom to apologize, tell us they fixed the mistake, and sent the whole class t-shirts that read, on the front, "The RoomStore Official Proofreader" and on the back, "The Apostrophe Catastrophe." A fabulous experience about the power of letter writing, the whole way around! I included pics of the t-shirt in resources.
When the kids are writing for a clear purpose and for a specific audience, they will hone in on the most important aspects of what they need to do to get the points across to the readers.
The kids have the opportunity to share their letters and the advertisements that accompany them. I anticipated that they would enjoy leafing through the advertisements...real world applications always seem to be enjoyable, and they truly do. Predictably, they may struggle a bit with finding the right way to express themselves at first, but by the conclusion of the lesson, a good overview of letter writing to a specific audience will be achieved, and the class is ready to embark on the rest of "Communication Nation."
With this as the kick-off lesson, I anticipate success in understanding purpose when writing the various types of communication assignments.