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What I Hope to Accomplish: The 5 WH-Questions of Letter Writing

Written by Nicole Chiarella
December 03, 2020

I was in a training the other day via Zoom, when I heard a teacher sigh and say: “letter writing is a dying art.” While it isn’t the first time I’ve heard that, it made me think: Is it true? Issues with the post office and lack of oversight with media and news has made that question something not easily answered.

It made me realize how much truth is in our perception. Maybe, to this teacher, letter writing appears to be a dying art. But I think it’s deeper than that.

Letter writing is alive and well, in new and complex forms. Between texting, email, emoji, WhatsApp, FlipGrid, etc.—writing is more accessible now than ever before. The ability to convey meaning and messages through writing has expanded, giving students so much more opportunity to communicate with the world around them. If only we teach them!

 At the end of the literacy unit and events, students will be able to answer the following essential questions:

Who do you write letters to?

 Other than Santa Claus and grandmothers, I hope that students will understand that writing letters, or communicating via text (whether print or digital) is a valuable way to connect with important people in your life, or to business owners, governmental agencies, or individuals who can enact change.

What do you write letters about?

 Letter writing can be hopeful and sweet, or silly and fun. You can write about something that makes you afraid, or an event that made you so angry you can still feel it now. With first graders, taking time to provide thoughtful prompts and background can make a difference between an engaged writer and a student who is lost and confused. I want all students in this program to understand that letter writing is directly influenced by a.) how hard they work, and b.) how accessible they can make their writing to others.

When do you write letters?

 Students should write letters whenever they have something to say—which is always. Letter writing isn’t just an academic exercise, but a lifelong skill that will serve students in the workforce, in activism, and in navigating the world around them.

 Why do you write letters?

Whether it be through print, poetry, or digital text—all letter writing has the same purpose. The reason we write is not, as some of my students suggested ‘to be the smartest’, or get good grades. The reason we write is so much more. We write to communicate, to give our feelings and ideas permanence and a sense of importance and power.

 How do you write letters?

The conventions of letter writing are something that I hope students find to be helpful rather than hindersome. Conventions and grammar are tools. They are what we use so that our messages can be clearly understood by the reader. It is through practical application and letter reading that we concurrently learn how to write letters.