From Theory to Practice
Students practice writing effective letters for a variety of real-life situations, such as responding to a prompt on a standardized test, corresponding with distant family members, or communicating with a business. They begin by reviewing the differences between business and friendly letter formats, using examples and a Venn diagram. Next, students write two letters, choosing from a list of prompts that include letters for varying audiences and purposes. After completing drafts and revisions, students complete their final versions using an online tool.
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Letter Generator: This online tool allows students to read about the parts of a letter. They can then write and print their own friendly or business letter.
Interactive Venn Diagram: Use this online tool to organize ideas for a compare and contrast essay, or while reading to compare and contrast two works of literature.
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FROM THEORY TO PRACTICE
In Both Art and Craft: Teaching Ideas That Spark Learning, Diana Mitchell explains that teaching is "about gently uncovering ways for students to find their way into the learning by making connections within themselves" (23). Students are more likely to "find their way into learning" when assignments have clear application to real-world tasks. As Mitchell explains it, these types of assignments, "have a nowness' about them; there is a reason for an importance to doing them at this point in time" (24). In addition, personal connections are made more easily when students have a degree of choice within a writing assignment. Mitchell triumphs assignments that "are fun and interesting," as well as those that "provide lots of possibilities and tap into . . . imagination" (24). In that spirit, this lesson in letter writing provides a functional application for writing and, at the same time, encourages students to make personal connections through a variety of letter topics.
Mitchell, Diana, and Leila Christenbury. 2000. Both Art and Craft: Teaching Ideas that Spark Learning. Urbana, IL: NCTE.
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- Transparencies and overhead projector or computer and projector
- Whiteboard and markers
- Writing a Letter of Inquiry: Sample Business Letter Worksheet printable
- Writing a Letter of Inquiry: Business Letter Editing Challenge Worksheet printable
- Pencils and writing paper
- Test Taking Skill: Thinking Like a Writer printable
All three worksheets are reproduced from Expository Writing: Mini-Lessons, Strategies, Activities by Tara McCarthy.
Step 1: Display the Writing a Letter of Inquiry: Sample Business Letter Worksheet and distribute the student copies to the class.
Step 2: Read the sample business letter aloud. Then explain the following to students as part of a class discussion:
- The first sentence presents the main idea.
- The other sentences relate to the main idea.
- The letter is brief and to the point.
- The message is clear and catches the recipient's attention.
Step 3: Display the Writing a Letter of Inquiry: Business Letter Editing Challenge Worksheet and distribute the student copies to the class.
Step 4: Read the problematic business letter aloud. Then explain the following to students as part of a class discussion:
- Point out the ways the letter "wanders."
- Ask students to find the topic sentence (sentence #3), reword it, and place it at the beginning.
- Have students identify the sentences that don't relate to the main idea (sentences #2 and #6).
- Ask students to compose one or two other sentences that do relate to the main idea.
Step 5: When students are finished composing their new sentences, ask for volunteers and write a few edited versions on the whiteboard. This will allow students to compare their revised sentences, as well as allow you to assess students' sentence structure.
Step 6: Help students brainstorm ideas for letters they could write. Put the following examples on display or write them on the whiteboard:
- Ask a local SPCA about summer or weekend jobs at the animal shelter.
- Ask a favorite author to visit your classroom. Tell why you would appreciate such a visit.
- Tell a manufacturer of weed-killers about specific concerns and questions you have about their product.
- Ask a local or national political figure for his or her position on an issue that matters to you.
- Tell a TV executive about the kinds of programs you like and ask why there are not more of these types of programs.
- Write the school principal about the types of food you prefer to eat in the cafeteria. Support your position with nutritional facts!
Step 7: Have students begin writing their own expository paragraphs for letters of inquiry.
Step 8: Meet with students in small groups and answer any questions they may have regarding their letters. You may want to have each student read his rough-draft aloud.
Step 9: Have students revise their letters with a partner.
Step 10: Have students type or neatly re-write final drafts of their letters.
Step 11: Display the Test Taking Skill: Thinking Like a Writer worksheet and distribute the student copies to the class.
Step 12: Discuss the introduction. Explain that many questions on standardized tests call on students to use their writing and thinking skills to:
- Compare and contrast items
- Link cause and effect
- Define and explain items
- Grasp a main idea
All these skills relate to the expository writing concepts that your students have been practicing.
Step 13: Use the Test Taking Skill: Thinking Like a Writer worksheet to help students apply these skills to test questions. Then link these skills to business writing to help students develop clarity and brevity in their writing.
Step 14: During discussion or through written reflections, have students explain for each question:
- Which writing and thinking skill the test taker will use to answer the question.
- Why the correct answer is correct and why the other three options are not.
I use these books to help students break the researching and reporting process into manageable steps.
- Expository Writing: Mini-Lessons, Strategies, Activities by Tara McCarthy
I've incorporated the teaching ideas on note-taking, outlining, research and presentations from this great resource. Help your students become better writers by adapting the lessons provided to fit your classroom needs. Be sure to check out the reproducible worksheets!
- Step-By-Step Strategies for Teaching Expository Writing by Barbara Mariconda
Students will benefit from seeing the examples of various writing strategies in a step-by-step process. This resource comes complete with essay samples and reproducible worksheets.
- 50 Writing Lessons That Work! Motivating Prompts and Easy Activities That Develop the Essentials of Strong Writing by Carol Rawlings Miller
Each lesson begins by explaining the skill focus and includes a ready-to-go assignment. This is a great supplement for your writing curriculum. I use these assignments when I know I need to plan for a substitute.
Have students send their letters and then share the responses with the class.
- Did students use an accurate business letter format?
- Did the first sentence present the main idea?
- Were students brief and to the point?
- Do students see writing as a real-world skill?
This lesson is adapted from Expository Writing: Mini-Lessons, Strategies, Activities by Tara McCarthy.