Wednesday, February 4, 2009

letter writing magic

two of my classes have been doing letter writing units. i'll admit my mornings are spent frantically typing responses back to these kindergarten and first grade letters (i gave up on handwriting) but it's been totally worth it.

suddenly the kindergartens are understanding that words have meaning, that we write to communicate with others, and that if we leave spaces, so our readers can read our work.

it's been a few weeks now and i'm amazed at how much their writing has improved in just a short time. some of them have gone from strings of letters that had no meaning behind it to writing letters they can point to "re-read" what they wrote. some have even started adding beginning and middle sounds to their words! and some... wow. i just can't explain how much the motivation of getting a letter back has taken their writing to another level.

in kindergarten we've been reading the letters we write back to them out loud to the entire class before writing workshop begins. it is a bit time consuming, but every kid is engaged in hearing the letters, and it makes them all excited to go back to their seats and write letters instead of drawing pictures. plus, we've made a big deal out of when i write a longer letter back to someone because he asked a question (because good letters always have questions!) that little act of reading the letters to the class has created SO much motivation. (stolen idea from co-teacher @

the upside is that i'm really enjoying getting letters from the kiddos. through a series of questions in letters a few first graders and i are writing back and forth about our favorite books- which is so much fun. and one of the kids on my caseload is currently working hard on a letter to our principal asking what her favorite book is.

i love this unit because it is so motivating, and is such a great time to teach the mechanics of writing (how can i read your wonderful words if you forgot your spaces? oh man, you'd better go put spaces in your next letter so i'll be able to read it!)

when i was a classroom teacher i kept my favorite letters from kids and would put them into an album at the end of the year (totally inspired by the book 'first year letters'). i included the best of the apology letters, and the tardy excuse notes (my favorites- i always made them write a quick note about why they were late to school. they come up with the BEST excuses, and it was a great conversation starter with a parent... well, your child says he was late every day this week because you were doing your make up. i know that's not true, but he wrote it right here... ). my old kids LOVE looking through the book to see what they wrote years ago, and new kids loved combing through the old letters to see if we did the same things we did years before. plus, there is nothing more satisfying in june than to sit down to put together the collection of letters and watch their ability grow from the august letters on. you realize you really were teaching them all that time...

i'm selfishly excited that this year i'll be able to make another book of the two classes' letters.

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