5th Grade ELA : Unit #1 - Communication Nation:Writing With Audience and Purpose in Mind : Lesson #4

I've Got An Opinion to Share

Objective: TSWBAT express their point of view in a Letter to the Editor.
Standards: W.5.1 W.5.4
Subject(s): English / Language Arts
60 minutes
1 Warm Up Introduction - 15 minutes

A "Letter to the Editor" can be written as a friendly letter or business letter.  I begin this lesson by sharing the letter my daughter wrote to The Arizona Republic following a AZ Diamondbacks game on Mother's Day in 2012.  An unruly fan was sitting behind us and kept criticizing my daughter's favorite player, Justin Upton.  She gave him an angry look (he didn't take any notice of her), but I wouldn't let her say anything.  Once we got home, she kept talking about it so the teacher in me said, "Why don't you write a letter to the editor of the AZ Republic?  Maybe the disresepectful fan will see it and know it's about him."  She liked the idea and sat right down and pounded one out.  They didn't publish it until June- long after we'd all forgotten, but wow was she proud when it showed up in the paper one day!

I tell the kids that it's unique when a letter is written to editor from someone their age, so if they actually have something to say there's a good chance it will be selected for publication at some point.  Writing a letter to the editor is a wonderful way to express their point of view in any given situation and will really help them to practice the skills of W.5.1  which involves writing opinion pieces on topics then supporting that point of view with reasons and information.

2 Application - 25 minutes

Writing a letter of opinion is as broad as people's personal feelings.  There are many reasons why someone might write to the editor of a paper.  Here are a few: 

They may be angry and want people to know it.

They have an issue to discuss and hope to persuade you to agree.

Information to share about an upcoming event or helpful hint.

Praise or thank someone or something that's happening in the community.

Respond to another citizen's letter to the editor.

When writing a letter to the editor, it's important to follow some basic guidelines if you hope to have it published.  This publicity-driven world we live in today may add enthusiasm for the task to your fifth graders if they want to see their name in the paper.

Stress the fact that a strong opening is necessary, they need to stick with their main topic by getting to the point immediately, thoughts should be backed up with evidence, if necessary, and the whole thing should be concise.  A short, but effectively written letter is an editor's favorite style.

Students decide on the style they'd like to use and write a "Letter to the Editor" of their hometown paper.  This is similar to the business letter in format and even idea.  The list of reasons to write a letter like this is usually all the kids need to start generating ideas. For some students, there are too many choices.  When this is the case I choose one for them depending on the student.  For example, a student active in sports, after school clubs, etc might really feel comfortable writing to the editor to inform them about what's going on in the community or maybe an event coming up.

It's imperative, especially for publication, that the kids write at least one rough draft of their letter, and some kids may require two.  It used to be that I'd have two rough drafts minimum (of all writing pieces) for each student, but once we became pressed for time with so many requirements as teachers, it seemed that only one would be manageable in most circumstances.  Having said that, whatever each student needs to get them to the perfect end result, is what I want to do.  I don't use a specific graphic organizer for this lesson, although I could, if necessary. This just seems to be one letter writing activity that practically writes itself.

Student Reflection
Intrinsic Motivation

I really enjoyed teaching this lesson because the kids were so receptive.  I'm not sure if it was because they liked the challenge of getting a letter published, but I had enthusiasm to spare. The topic ideas were key in helping the kids jump on board with this.  In a future lesson, I think I will add a component of scenarios in which the kids pick a situation and write a practice letter about it.  The practice would reinforce the skill.

3 Sharing of Letters - 15 minutes

Give students the opportunity to share their various "Letters to the Editor" and determine if any of the kids would actually like to send their letters into the paper.  Although many hands may go up, it's a good opportunity to point out strengths and weaknesses in the letters to determine which would be likely candidates for publication. 

As I mentioned in the description of Student Letter to the Editor example in the Application, the publication of certain letters is fully dependent on the timeliness of the topic.  I loved that government shutdown letter, and he worked hard on it, but because the process took awhile, it lost its chance for publication when the shutdown ended.  The way it went down was one of those great opportunities to discuss that aspect of letter writing with the kids, though.  

One of the things I tell the class as they begin to write is that fake sounding, nonsensical, and poorly written letters are not going to be published and they shouldn't waste a stamp.  On the other hand, when kids have great ideas or opinions, and these are what we're looking to refine with W.5.1, then expressing them in well-written letters are just the type of thing editors like to give variety to some of the typical letters they receive. 

Personally, I love presenting the idea of freedom of speech, and using letter writing to the editor as an outlet for a grievance, which is why I advised my daughter to do just that.  I don't advocate that all letters lean toward the negative, but in a real situation, it was a great lesson about the power of writing to a third grader.  She will remember this and know that her voice was heard.  As teachers, it's important for us to make sure our students are aware of their power to influence others through the written word.