At the end of the year, I always have my kids write letters to my incoming 5th graders. These letters are a fun way for the kids to review their 5th grade year. The current class also loves telling my future students various things they'll be doing, what to watch out for, and whatever else comes to mind. These letters go into the Time Capsule and wait until the Fall.
Exactly ten years ago, I was at a friend's house, and she mentioned that her daughter, who was graduating from high school, had just received a letter she wrote to herself when she was in eighth grade. I was intrigued- loved the concept, and decided right then that I would do it too. My 5th graders would not only write to my future students...they would also write to themselves. What a great way to engage students with writing and to give them an opportunity to practice the writing skills we have been learning all year.
I explain the task at hand, and together we brainstorm ideas that would be interesting to write about and read about in the future (Brainstorming ideas on the Smart Board).
We begin with a group brainstorm of the kinds of things that would be fun to read seven years into the future. Although it may not seem like a long time to some, when I tell them to think seven years back (most kids were four) they realize seven years makes a big difference!
Ideas as a group, or individually: current best friends, favorite school subject, sports played, type of cell/smartphone, professional sports team favorites, who won the Super Bowl, who the President of the USA is now, favorite memory or trip, etc.
The students are directed to write at least one page to themselves (Beginning letters to themselves as HS Seniors). It's the minimum, although most kids can't fit everything they want to say on one page (Lots to Say). It's usually three or four! (Everybody Busy) But...there are always a few who write a paragraph and say they're done. Predictably, I dive into a classroom lecture to explain that they'll be seriously upset with themselves when they receive such a skimpy letter. I paint the picture,
"Imagine, you're a senior in high school and one day a letter shows up addressed to you that you recognize as your own handwriting, but as a child. Instantly, this day will come back into your mind. You will be THRILLED that you're about to read the secret words that have been hidden away for seven years. Words that must have been important to you at the time. You can't wait! You open the envelope. You unfold the paper! You......feel deflated. Your letter reads,
'Dear Future Self,
I had to write this letter to you. I hope you are having fun."
From, Old Self' "
The kids take this message to heart, even those who were already happily writing (A fun letter to write!) listen intently. I explain that this is an actual letter from the first year I did this activity, and before I required the kids to write one full page. I have always felt guilty about allowing that child to write so little.
All of this usually does the trick.
As mentioned in the last section, part of the excitement is receiving the letter and seeing their own 5th grade handwriting. For this reason, it's important for them to address their envelopes in their best handwriting. No labels, no parents' writing. Some years I've asked the kids to bring in stamped envelopes, some years I've not asked, and a few come in anyway. It's really nice to have the Forever Stamps out there now. I buy however many I need and put them right on after the kids leave at the end of the year.
I collect the letters (Completed letters...shrouded in mystery) alphabetize (to be sure I have one from each student,) then file them in a giant manilla envelope with the year to send them out. This year I also took a group photo (Letters returned in 2021!) to put into report cards. "See you in 2021!" it says. Time flies, and the kids will be reunited with their letters before they know it.
If you are going to give this very cool idea a try, here are some important facts to keep in mind.
FIRST: It's a committment. A very big committment. Most kids won't remember these letters, and they'll be blindsided by their own handwriting in the mail one random day, but some will be waiting. If the end of their Senior year comes and goes and they haven't received it, expect a visitor.
SECOND: Having said that, I was concerned that something would happen to me before I could send the letters and have put my own safeguards in place. My teammates, and some non-teaching friends know about this activity and where the letters are. They're clearly marked, in large manilla envelopes, in the bottom filing cabinet drawer (Letters in the safety of the filing cabinet). The year they're to be sent is at the top, and the class list is right inside. They are also already 'Forever' stamped.
THIRD: I wait to put my return address at the top until the year I send it. There are always a few that come back each year, and I don't want to trust it to go to the school. By returning it to my house, I'm bound to get it back. I put any returned letters into that year's original large envelope and put it back into the filing cabinet. I was rewarded one year when an old student came to my classroom and told me she'd never gotten her letter. Yay! I could give it to her right then!
FOURTH: The kids show me their correctly written envelope (Sealed in Envelopes) and they put their letter inside and seal it. Right before I send the letters, seven years later, I write across the back of the envelope a little note such as, "Hope you have a wonderful graduation! Love, Mrs. Robinson," or something to that effect. It's kind of like the seals of trust used in correspondence of old.
FIFTH: You can always stop if it feels overwhelming. There are certain activities kids come into my classroom expecting because they've heard from friends and siblings, but this is never one of them. It's so close to the end of the year, they've already written their letters to my future fifth graders, and although it's cool...it's not that cool until senior year. I've often thought that if the responsibility gets to be too much as I get older, I'll stop the new letter writing and stay with the ones already written until they're all gone.