I told students we were going to learn how to format and write a letter. A letter is a written message that is usually sent through the mail. I asked students if they had ever received or written a letter and most said no. However, they were familiar with email so I told them it was similar to that. I went on to tell them the parts of a letter; the date, greeting, body, closing, and signature. The date is written at the top of the letter. The greeting goes underneath the date. This is where we say hello to the person. The body is what we have to say. It goes underneath the greeting. The closing tells the person goodbye and goes after the body. The signature is where we sign our name and it goes underneath the closing.
We decided we wanted to write a letter to the principal. I modeled writing the letter on the document camera so that all students saw how a letter is formatted as it is written. They also wrote it at their seats for guided practice. Even with the letter posted and labeled, many students write the date and greeting and body on the same line because they are accustomed to writing in that manner. I anticipated that misconception was able to catch students as soon as they made the error. I emphasized that letters are formatted in a special way and it is important that they follow it. I explained that the greeting is written on a line by itself and the body begins on the next line. There is the same misconception with the closing and signature, so I was able to catch that error early on, as well.
After writing the draft, I modeled checking it for errors and making corrections. I wrote the final copy on the third day, the same day they were writing their final copies in order to model the publishing phase. I posted it in the class as a model to which students could refer when writing their own letters.
Students were given the direction to write a letter to anyone they liked. Students at this age enjoy close relationships with friends and relatives, so most students wrote letters to relatives. This was their first foray into letters, so I kept it relatively simple. I did not give them a topic because I wanted them use their own creativity. Besides, letters are personal and should convey a message of the individual’s choosing. I did not require a certain length, either. Again, I wanted them to focus on the format. (Content will be more important in an upcoming assignment where they will write a letter from Mulan.)
They worked on their letters for two days. Day one focused on drafting. Day two focused on revising and publishing.
I conferenced with students during their writing, focusing on format and conventions. I stressed using the proper format for letters because I knew they would be using it soon for an upcoming reading assignment. The focus would be on content at that time, so I wanted to be sure students had a firm understanding of the format. It would be information overload to have to re-teach writing a letter in addition to the reading concept that would be the focus.
Student volunteers were asked to read their letters aloud. This gave students the opportunity to practice speaking clearly in front of others. Some students are not comfortable sharing writing of a personal nature aloud, so that is why I asked for volunteers. I allowed students to use the system microphone to encourage them to go up. Some students were silly using the microphone, but hey, silliness is characteristic of 8-year-olds. I simply reminded them of proper behavior when using technology and they modified their behavior.