I am experiencing a huge learning curve this year as I learn how to teach a new reading series well. As I experience this new curriculum for the first time I still want to remain true to myself as a teacher. This week my teacher's edition says I need to teach my students how to write a friendly letter. As a child, I used to write letters to both my grandmothers. I remember being so excited when I received a letter in the mail, and I couldn't wait to open it and see what they said. In this day of technology, children rarely have the opportunity to send or receive anything in the mail. Today I want to help my students experience the joy I used to feel around letter writing within the context of my curriculum's guidelines.
I do author studies in my classroom. Reading books by the same author gets kids excited about reading, and they start seeking out books by the same author when they go to the library. We just finished an author study on Tomie dePaola. I know my students loved his books and would want to write him a letter. I decided I could teach the required curriculum and we could make a real life connection by writing him a letter.
I have about 30 minutes each day to teach writing. I am writing this as one whole lesson but I know for my schedule I will have to cut this lesson into pieces to fit my schedule. Depending on your schedule, you can cut this lesson into pieces if you need to as well.
You may be wondering, "I don't see a standard for letter writing." You'd be right - there isn't one. The focus of this lesson is on listening and speaking and peer editing. The friendly letter writing is the vehicle we are using to practice the skills related to these standards. For example, I partner my students up and they will follow our agreed upon rules of how they work together to brainstorm ideas for their letters and for working together during peer editing. This addresses standard SL1.1. The peer editing portion of the lesson addresses standard W1.5 because they will have to offer each other feedback and respond to each others questions.
For today's lesson you'll need to copy enough Student Copy Tree Map.pdf for each student so they can categorize their questions as they brainstorm. You'll also want to copy enough Vertical Writing Paper for Friendly Letters.pdf so that students can write both a sloppy copy and a good copy of their letters. You will also need either the Smartboard Friendly Letter Lesson.notebook or Activboard Friendly Letter Lesson.flipchart lesson. Finally, you will need to copy enough peer editing checklists Peer Editing Checklist For Friendly Letters.pdf for each student in your class so they can edit their partner's work.
I partnered my students up and had partners sitting next to each other at student tables. I introduced the lesson quickly. I said, "This week we are going to learn how to write a friendly letter. Guess who we are writing to? Tomie dePaola!" You would think I told the students they had just won the lottery based on the cheers that erupted from my room.
I told my students, "When we write a letter we want all our ideas to flow together. We don't want to write random sentences here and there. So we need to brainstorm some ideas and questions that we want to write to Tomie dePaola. We are going to put our ideas in categories so we are going to use a tree map."
I passed out the tree maps for the students. I also had a tree map projected on my interactive whiteboard. On my tree map I wrote, "My letter to Tomie dePaola" on the top title line. Then we came up with three categories for what we were going to put in our letters. They were:
I wrote these at the top of each column. You can see the example here Tree Map Example for Friendly Letter.pdf. After writing the categories down I said, "We are going to go through 1 category at a time. Partners, you will brainstorm and write your ideas on your tree map for each category. " I have partners number off - Person 1 and Person 2. Each partner gets to take a turn being the speaker first. For the first category I said, "Person 1 - you get to speak first. Tell your partner what you are thinking of putting in your category. Person 2 you can respond and give your partner some ideas as well. After Person 1 has filled in their category Person 2 will take a turn." Partners worked well giving each other feedback and it took about 7-8 minutes for both partners to fill in the first category of their maps. Then we repeated the procedure for the remaining 2 categories.
During this whole process I wanted my students to use their phonetic spelling so I really didn't write much on the tree map besides the title and category labels. I didn't want this to be a copying activity. I thought Mr. dePaola would enjoy reading authentic first grade writing!
After brainstorming, I passed out the journal paper to students. I had plain, lined paper on my Activboard as well. I said, "There are 5 parts to a friendly letter. I am going to help you with some of the parts."
You can see from this example, Example of Guided Write for Friendly Letter.pdf, how I helped guide my students with their writing. I guided them with writing the date and greeting. Then I had them use their tree maps to write at least 3 sentences for the body of their paragraphs. I challenged some of my students with stronger writing skills to write more than that for their body. You can see my students writing the body of their letters here Writing Our Friendly Letters.mp4. You will see on the example that for the body part of the letter I have squiggle marks. I did this intentionally so students wouldn't copy from me. Once students were done writing the bodies of the letter, I helped to guide them with their closing and where to write their name (first names only).
Then it was time to participate in peer editing.
I had prepared a mock letter in advance of the editing part. I wrote a letter on my lined paper on my Smartboard lesson. I brought the students to the carpet and showed them the checklist. I said, "This checklist is going to help you as you talk to your partner while you offer feedback to them while you edit each others letters. I am going to show you the correct way of working with your partner right now."
I brought my strongest writer up to the front of the class to be my partner. We modeled how to work together as partners. You will see in my reflection in this section that a great deal of work goes into getting first graders to be successful when editing. I've offered some insights in the reflection section.
After we had modeled, I said, "Do you understand what is expected of you as you work together with your partner? Does anyone have any questions before we go back to our seats and edit?" Then students went back to their seats to get started.
When groups began to finish I said, "When you are done, come to the back table for me to do a final check. Bring a pencil with you." I checked papers for neatness and to make sure writing was at least phonetically regular enough for someone to read. The students did a pretty good job with editing and there were only a few things students needed to fix. After I checked papers, I collected them.
I used a large 10x13 manilla envelope to send the letters off. I made a really big deal of putting everyone's letter in the envelope and sealing it. The students saw all the stamps on the envelope and saw the address to where it was going. We were all very excited. I had never had a class write to an author before. I really hope he writes us back!