Analyzing Rubrics to Write Business Letters for a Specific Audience

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Students will be able to write an informative business letter by drawing evidence from the text by reading and comparing writing rubrics and planning ideas for a letter.

Big Idea

Students will write from Mrs. Jones' or Roger's points of view using the RAFT strategy (Role, Audience, Format, Topic).

How Is My Writing Assessed?

20 minutes

I told students that I would be using either the AIMS rubric or the PARCC rubric to grade their writing throughout the year, which is why we spent time going over the rubrics.  They need to know the expectations for their writing.   Yes, I could have created my own rubric, but there's no sense in recreating the rubric-wheel, so I use the official rubrics.

I distributed copies of my state's writing rubric (Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards, or AIMS) and the PARCC rubric.  I told students that I knew that the vocabulary was difficult (see reflection), but we were going to read through the rubrics so we would all know how their writing would be assessed, both on the standardized tests, and in-class writing. 

We started with the AIMS rubric and focused on the points 6, 4, and 3. I asked the students to read about score points 3, 4, and 5 in their groups.  I had students take turns reading Point 3 aloud, and then read Point 4 and 5 silently.

  • Point 4 asks for adequate ideas, relevant ideas, and a recognizable beginning, middle, and end
  • Point 4 requires balanced and thorough explanation of relevant details, and clarity and focus
  • Point 6 asks for exceptional clarity, in-depth or creative exploration of a topic, and a strong beginning and conclusion

We then went to the PARCC rubric and focused on points 4,3, and 2. Even before reading through the PARCC rubric, students that the lowest score you could get on the AIMS was a 1. The lowest score on PARCC was a 0. They immediately recognized that they would be expected to do more with their writing than AIMS.

  • Point 2 requires some reasoning, details, coherence, clarity.
  • Point 3 requires a great deal of  coherence and clarity, and effective development of the topic.
  • Point 4 requires purposeful coherence and clarity and not only effective, but comprehensive development of the topic.

I asked students to locate the one big thing that the PARCC rubric demands that the AIMS rubric doesn't even touch--text based evidence.  There is absolutely nothing in the AIMS rubric about text-based evidence.  Nothing.  Did I mention that there is no text-based evidence in the AIMS rubric? Because there isn't any mention of text-based evidence.

Students could clearly see that the PARCC rubric not only expects, but demands more of them. One student commented that there wasn't a huge difference between a  5 and 6 on the AIMS rubric, but there was a wide difference between a 3 and 4 on the PARCC rubric.  Another student commented that the AIMS rubric gave a point for basically trying something, but the PARCC rubric doesn't. 

I told my honors classes that they should certainly not be getting anything lower than a 3 on the AIMS rubric or the PARCC rubric.  Absolutely, nothing lower! NOTHING!

Business Letters Reference Sheet

15 minutes

I don't ask my students to write many friendly letters.  The consequences for errors in friendly letters are minimal, if any.  But business letters?  The consequences for mistakes in those can be huge--lost job opportunity, being seen as an irate customer and being ignored, not getting a scholarship. And so, if I have my students write letters, I usually require them write business letters.  This also reinforces the correct way to write an address, which apparently is much harder than I think it is (city comma state zip code).

To help students with this, I give them a business letter reference sheet.  On one side, it names the different parts and outlines what they're supposed to do.  The other side is a sample letter that I wrote to a company a few years ago so they can see  real business letter sample. 

I do not have students use their real address.  I either have them use the school's address or ask that they make up an address.  That way, if the paper is lost, it doesn't end up in the wrong hands.  I also tell them not to use their actual contact information (e-mail or phone numbers) for the same reason.  I'll sometimes tell them to use the number 867-5309 to see who gets the reference, or again, ask them to make it up. If it's an actual company they're writing to, like in my sample letter, I ask them to find the company's real address and use it.

In addition to the reference sheet, I have a PowerPoint with the same information. The last slide is a sample format, and the paragraphs are written as directions.  It's probably not as funny as I think it is, but there's always one student who finds the humor.

And so, we read through the PowerPoint and/or the reference letter.  I usually just use one for my honors classes and both for my co-taught classes, as those students need additional repetition.

Responding in Writing

10 minutes

To end the lesson, I asked students to compare and contrast the AIMS and PARCC rubric. I asked them what parts were similar, which parts were differently and which one they'd rather have their teachers to grade their writing.