The friendly letter is a ubiquitous elementary project, but without a meaningful context it often ends up as a rote exercise in following formatting rules. With the advent of digital tools and social media, the rules for formatting a friendly letter writing are also changing. While many bemoan this change, digital tools also made it easier to both edit writing, add visuals and voice, and share immediately with an audience beyond the classroom.
Here are some examples of ways you can use digital letters to engage students in writing, comprehension, gratitude and deeper thinking about the curriculum.
Express your thanks
Research shows that practicing gratitude can have a positive effect on our happiness (Lyumbormirsky, S. 2007). Rather than task students to write a thank you note, have them practice gratitude by thanking someone whose behavior they are grateful for.
Did your class recently go on a field trip? Give your visit a curriculum spin by asking students to recount and retell a single event from the trip through a combination of writing, images, and voice recording (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.2.4). Combine each student's recollection into a class project and then share with the guest speaker or docent from your teacher account.
Write a letter to or between characters in a story
Taking the perspective of a character in a story can help students understand their motivations and better comprehend events in the stories they read. Writing a letter to and from characters in a story they are reading provides students with a highly engaging comprehension project that also involves practice in narrative writing.
Depending on the age of your students and the writing prompt you share with them, writing letters can also provide an opportunity to use evidence from text to justify opinions and make an argument.
Write a letter from a location
As students learn about locations, habitats, and cultures around the world, ask them to write a letter home explaining their experience as a performance assessment of their learning. As they relate their story, they will likely combine both fact, story, and opinion, giving them an opportunity to combine narrative, informational, and argument writing.
The Rainforest Postcards lesson on Creative Educator also provides a jigsaw approach to learning about different rainforests around the world.
Students could also write a letter from an animal to share facts about their habitat, diet, and physical characteristics. You could even have students write argumentative letters from animals considered "pests" like ants and bats arguing how they are beneficial and should not be exterminated.
Write a letter from history
“We do not see things as they are. We see things as we are.”
— Rabbi Shemuel ben Nachmani
Using letter writing to explore a historical event or time period provides an opportunity to help students gain historical perspective. Historical perspective means attempting to see events through a person's eyes, not how you would personally feel about them from a present day perspective.
The Postcards from the Past lesson plan on Creative Educator does involve making postcards to share historical information, but the focus is not on creating the cards as much as comparing them. Even if students have a hard time seeing through the eyes of people who lived in the past, the process of comparing an entire class's perspectives on an event will demonstrate how many different interpretations and viewpoints there are to any single event.
As students begin to see that there are different perspectives behind each letter they read, they better understand how beliefs and experiences affect how someone relates both their opinion and facts about an event. In turn they learn to more critically read primary and secondary sources, differentiating between fact and opinion as they identify emotional charged words that help them understand the speaker's perspective.
Using the stationery templates in Wixie
Wixie includes a folder of Stationery templates in the Backgrounds library students can use to personalize their letter writing and teachers can use to give a thematic spin on a letter writing project.
To add a Stationery background, select the Use an Image button below the tools.
At the Background dialog, open the Stationery folder, select the stationery you want to use, and choose Add.
Digital letter writing is a great way to practice informational, narrative, and opinion writing as well as build digital-age communication skills. It also provides an engaging performance assessment you can use to evaluate student understanding of the curriculum.