My class took a break from research type writing this week and focused on persuasive letter writing. I used “I Wanna a New Room” and “I Wanna Go Home” by Karen Kaufman Orloff as mentor text. These books are written in a little different of a format than a typical children’s book . Orloff writes her entire stories in a letters or e-mails style. The main character, Alex is writing to his parents trying to talk them into giving him what he wants. In one book he wants to to stay at his friends house instead of his grandparents while his parents are on vacation. In the other, Alex wants a room separate from his little brother. After Alex writes his letters, his parents then write back to him. The books progress in this pattern of communicating back and forth through letters.
After reading these books aloud and discussing them, I asked my students to think of a problem they have and a person that could fix the problem. I then asked them to write a letter to that person. The following day students paired up with a peer they felt comfortable reading their letter (I told them they would be doing this before they wrote the prior day). After reading a peers letter, the students took on the persona of the person the letter was addressed to. They then wrote a letter back. Some students then shared their letters with the class. Others choose not to share because they felt their letters were to personal.
I LOVED this activity as did my students. They were able to successfully express a problem they were facing. The most touching letter was by a boy who’s dad just started working 3rd shift. He wrote about how he never sees his dad any more and how if he could see him for 30 minutes every night it would make all the difference in the world to him. He addressed his letter not to his dad, but to his dads boss. Others wrote to peers they were having problems with. Some students couldn’t think of any major problems in their own lives and wrote letters that dealt with general world problems. One student wrote about pollution and addressed the letter to all the people of the world. Another student wrote to Hillary Clinton about her political views. The replies were just as heart felt. Students took this assignment extremely seriously.
I already knew that my students were becoming great writers. That is not what I gained from this. I learned that mentor text is extremely important. Many of my students used that mentor text when setting up their letters. Their success is not due completely to my teaching or to my students writing abilities. It is in large part contributed to the mentor text. Orloff did a great job showing students how a writer organizes their letters. The impact that the mentor text had on these students shows me as a teacher that I need to continue using mentor text, even when we are writing non-fiction.