Before you begin the discussion about writing a letter to an author, a fun way to get everyone excited is to conduct an "Author/Reader" interview. It's a good idea to set this one up ahead of time with a student who enjoys reading and tends to be on the theatrical side.
The concept demonstrates inclusion of important components to put in an author letter through the engaging method of using interview questions.
Interviewer: Welcome to Desert Canyon Elementary School __________ (Author). The fifth graders have been eagerly awaiting your visit!
Author: Happy to be here!
Interviewer: We'd like to talk with you about one of our favorite books, __________________.
Author: I remember writing that, it was a great experience.
And it goes on. I've included the above and a few more samples as a resource in this section.
The students who write it up will have a blast, and their classmates will enjoy watching it unfold. Beforehand, the students need to do a little research on their authors to become familiar with their background. Unless they write out a script, which isn't my intention for this activity, they will also need to prepare for questions they don't have the answers to. In my video example, these questions are about the author's siblings and how old she is. The student answering said something to the effect of her siblings like their privacy and that she wouldn't discuss her age.
This is an engaging warm up for the class to observe. Although only one or two groups will present interviews as the initial actiivty, the others would certainly enjoy trying it out at another time. It's nice to get the kids thinking of authors as real people and their novels as more than just a book they had to read.
The students in my classroom are required to have a silent reading book in their desks at all times. In addition, I read a class novel for 10-15 minutes after lunch each day. Due to both of these facts, they ought to have many authors in mind when we begin this acitivity.
Writing the author letter is also a good way to give your students the opportunity to practice the CCSS skill of opinion writing. They'll be connecting on a new level with their author and giving feedback about one of the author's books.
The assignment: Choose one of your favorite living authors as the recipient of your letter. I suggest they pick a favorite to avoid a snarky, less politely written letter. At one time, I used this activity as the final activity after completing a novel which was assigned for its genre. Without the opportunity to choose who to write to, a student wrote a truthful, but scathing letter to the required author of the book he'd limped through because he didn't like it. Therefore, it's best to keep things positive, unless your objective is for students to evaluate critically.
The letter needs to include an introductory paragraph that introduces the student and the purpose of the letter.
The body of the letter must include at least two paragraphs stating what the child thought of the book. Some ideas to add: An opinion of how the book was written; How the story elements such as setting, characters, tone, etc. led to a greater understanding of the book; The student's favorite part of the book and why; Questions the student may have for the author.
The concluding paragraph must summarize the main points of the letter and may politely request a response from the author.
The letter must be written in proper business letter format (heading, inside address, salutation, body, closing, and signature) with proper spacing between parts.
Most likely, even the rough draft will not be completed during class time. Most students will want to type their letter, so send home rough drafts and instruct the kids to finish at home.
Included in the resources are two graphic organizers that will allow differentiation for what the students' needs may be. It is nice to offer choices in graphic organizers, and I don't do it often enough. In the case of this lesson, I stumbled upon two organizers that I liked. It occurred to me I should copy them back to back rather than limit it to the one that was my favorite. (Sometimes the obvious gets overlooked!) The kids appreciated the choice and the chance to decide which one suited their thought process best. Note: Although I may have a certain child in mind when I think of each organizer, I'd rather give both and then direct them individually to the one that would be more beneficial, if they're having trouble. By copying them back to back, no one feels the stigma associated with making the templates exclusive.
This is a great time to have a book share. Although the kids may enjoy hearing the letters to the author, add to that the opportunity for them to hear about some new books their classmates have really enjoyed, and you're giving the lesson an even greater importance. It never ceases to surprise when I hear the kids talking about their favorite authors and the books they still can't wait to read.
The edited letter written to Margaret Peterson Haddix in the section above says it all. This student can't wait to read her next book, Caught, and was thrilled to hear that he is in the middle of a series that hasn't been completed. The enthusiasm he has for this author and her novels is impossible for him to hide, and has drawn other kids in. I've gone to Goodwill, Savers and Half-Price Books to stock up on as many of her books as I can find for as little money as possible. When this year's book fair comes around, I'll put her newest ones on my wish list.
The kids can either read their letters and conduct the book share in small groups to make it more personal, and save time, or the whole class can listen in as the students take turns. If done in this manner, I suggest spreading it out over a few class periods during a special "Author Share" time.