"[I]f I had to live my life again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week…The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature." --Charles Darwin

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Writing lesson plan

Greetings to all my new Twitter followers, mostly thanks to my friend and former boss Eric Sheninger, who is one of the country's leading advocates of the use of Twitter and Web 2.0 in education.

I feel a bit guilty that I haven't posted in a long time, partly because of a career upheaval I've had; but that does not overturn my passion to treat my (relatively) new profession as professionally as I treated my old one. I'm still excited about what I do (and probably about what you do), and I have generated a lot of ideas I want to write about, but there have been other priorities. In the meantime, here's a quick lesson idea from a news note I saw today.

According to this news story, President Obama has 10 letters from ordinary Americans directed to him every day. Reportedly, the President reads them all and personally responds to three or four. Now of course, we are always urging our students to write to public officials, but in my heart of hearts I can't help wondering if this is a feckless task, an empty gesture towards ideals of representative democracy.

Now comes the President with an authentic kick in the pants. Every letter to him is automatically entered into a lottery to be read, not just by a 23-year-old West Wing intern, but by the top man himself AND to be answered personally by the President. I don't know about you, but for me this kicks up the stakes tremendously.

So why not challenge your students to write a letter to the President worth his personal attention? I suspect a preliminary discussion of topics plus specific lessons on tone, and, depending the grade level of the students a basic lesson or a reminder lesson on letter format. Moreover, the letters themselves can be displayed in your school or online--maybe your school forms a Ning for letters to people in power. Help them start the dialogue, uncover their passions and harness the power of the word to that passion.

Speaking of letters, I am crazy about a site called Letters of Note. These are letters with historic or cultural significance, shown both in facsimile and in transcript. A lot of them are not safe for classroom, so I would not invite a class to run amuck at the site, but there are a lot of goodies to be found there for thought, analysis, discussion and writing for both social studies and language arts literacy teachers. Here is a marvelous recent post of a letter from Harry Truman to an old friend, begun just before he learned he was to become president with a post-script added just after. Simple and powerful.

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