This is a Language Arts integration with my Social Studies unit on Explorers. In this unit, we've learned about early exploration...the reason for it, the men who explored, the routes they carved out. The kids are fascinated by the different voyages of these early explorers and our review is a lively one.
I begin by asking volunteers to raise hands and name explorers, in no particular order. Together, we come up with all of the main guys and put their information on the Smart Board.
My next question is, "If you were gone for many days or months or even years, who would you most miss talking with?" The kids give me their answers of various family members and friends. "Knowing that the explorers were unable to communicate as we do today with phones, texts, email, what would your only means of communication be back then?" They easily come up with writing letters. As we are also in our Communication Nation unit in Language Arts at this time, it rings a bell with some of the kids. I then agree that letters are the most likely way they could be in touch, although even that would have been sketchy compared to today's system. This leads into the application part of the lesson.
Students have a set purpose for writing these letters- reviewing information about the early explorers by expressing that content in an imaginative letter. They will have the opportunity to hear other students entertaining letters as well as share their own which reinforces the numerous facts I taught throughout the unit.
Begin with "Today we will pretend to be these explorers, lonely for their family and friends back home. You will write letters to someone important to you with information about your voyage. Write the year you traveled in the top right corner, but find in your textbook the actual date, if it was available."
Next, I tell them that these need not be long letters nor completely serious. They are creative and fun...a mix of imagination and actual facts. I expect them to cite that factual evidence in clever ways that also stay with the spirit of the letter, concise and funny. Because we're always monitoring and adjusting, however, I will be making some changes in the activity next time around. The reason? This year, I have a student who has an accomodation requiring her to use the computer for writing assignments. It's not something I thought to do because handwritten words on the explorer paper just made sense, but what a great way to improve the content of the letters while still keeping it possible to make it in one page. Next year, we will go to the computer lab and write letters and using an old fashioned font.
Back to the present: I bring out the cool, "Explorer Paper" and explain that they will write rough drafts; I check them for accuracy; They copy their letters over on the cool, "Explorer Paper" and the next day- read to the class.
An important skill that I refine all year is that of Point of View. The students must understand this skill in order to complete the task. They reread the portion of the text with their chosen explorer's story, close their eyes, and put themselves in his shoes...and they actually do this without question. This little exercise has large benefits. Once the students imagine that they're this person, they seem to write ideas down, and it flows from there. I move around the room offering suggestions and listening to the clever ideas they're proud to share.
Although I've completed the writing process in one class period in the past, after reading the student's typed story, it made me want to make the letters more involved. The kids have fun and really get into the whole idea of writing from their explorer's perspective, and there's no reason why they can't stretch their writing farther than I've required in the past.
You will want to save the reading of letters activity until at least the next day. In the interest of time I've actually tried it all within a class period block, but it's just too much. This year I had the completed original letters, which I copied (for writing folders and reading purposes,) and was then able to hang those originals on my "Exploring is a Tough Job" bulletin board. When the kids came in the next day, their letters were already hanging and looking great. During Social Studies they read the copies of their letters while standing in front of the real ones. Some of the kids really got into it with expression and movement. It's an activity I plan to expand next year.