Letter Writing

addressing envelopes

I never liked the term, “friendly letter.” When I was in elementary school, we reviewed the parts of a letter EVERY YEAR for like six years straight and then wrote pointless “friendly letters” that went nowhere. Huge snore. I disliked letter writing as a student, and I avoided letter writing activities for a long time as a teacher. Well, times change. I spend a lot of time on letter writing with my students now and here is why.

Addresses

  • Students have a hard time addressing an envelope (and I teach 4th grade where they have been doing the friendly letter drill for awhile). They are unsure about how to organize the three address lines, don’t know state abbreviations, and have trouble capitalizing correctly. When I ask students to address an envelope, they get to practice these skills. They are reminded how to write a complete name with a title (like Mrs. or Mr. or Dr.). They practice writing street abbreviations as part of the name of the street with capital letters (Center St. or Liberty Blvd.). They review state abbreviations and reinforce the comma between a city and a state.
  • If students add a return address to the envelope, they get a little extra work remembering their own address too.
  • So I am not necessarily referring to anyone I know, but for those of us who become slightly unbalanced when the address lines are all uneven on the envelope, slide a lined index card inside the envelope with the lines facing up. If the envelope is sheer enough (like a basic business envelope), you can see the guidelines when you press down to write. Your address lines will be straight and even making my the world a happy place.

Formatting

  • We usually type our letters, but I am a fan of handwritten letters too. Either way, students learn to format a letter in a logical order. There is contact information at the top, a date, and a proper salutation. Even if our students in future years are handling all communication with employers, co-workers, or clients electronically, they will still need documents formatted in an order that is easy to read. This is just a good lifeskill.  

Responses

  • If students know they will get tangible results from a project they complete, they are more likely to engage at a higher level. I have students write letters to people who reply (most of the time). In order to get a reply, my students have to communicate effectively in their letters and then address and mail it correctly. A formal letter requires full sentences, organized ideas, and a beginning, middle, and end. When we do receive a letter back, students gain experience with cause and effect– they wrote a letter asking for or providing information and received a reply responding to the content in the original  letter. 

Here are a few letter writing activity suggestions.

They are ideas that work at home as well as the classroom.

  • One of my favorite types of letters are thank you notes. The format of this letter does not have to be a full fancy business format. Casual is definitely acceptable. One benefit (among many) of the thank you note is that it requires children to reflect on something nice that has been done for them and then specifically recognize in written words why they appreciate the nice thing. I have a rating system for thank you notes on the post here.

thank you notes

  • An ongoing activity in my room is an author letter project. Students search contact information for a favorite author. The contact information could be an e-mail address, mailing address, or a publisher address. The students prepare a letter that details why they enjoyed a specific book by the author and gives reasons the book may have had an impact on the student. About half the time, we receive personal replies from the authors. You would not believe how an author reply can motivate a student to read! For more author letter tips, click here.

author letters

  • This year, students researched a state and contacted an alum from our school to ask for more information about the state and the history of our school. Again, we had about a 50% return rate. The men and women who wrote back to our students included many stories about their life at school when they were in the 4th grade. The connection to the history of the school made a much bigger impact than the rest of the state research project. I could not have replicated that by sharing something from a history textbook. The students made a personal connection with the alum. I liked that the students participated in an activity that stretched well beyond the classroom, and they created a link that was outside their everyday world. Write to a relatives or friends who live in a different town. Ask about how their life might be different from your own. It is a great way to discover old family stories or compare differences in cities, states, and regions. (Visit my teacher store to purchase the State Postcard Project).

new york reply

So That’s How You Spell It

grocery list

This is the grocery list Miss Priss gave me. Can anyone guess what we need from the store?

I always have a student who is a poor speller. There are kids who just never get the hang of the common patterns in the English language. I think our use of text speak and lack of handwriting practice is partly to blame, but I will save that discussion for another post.

I have a few tricks to help my students with common spelling errors, and I give some practice work for the summer too. In the age of spell check, correct spelling will be about recognizing the best way to spell a word rather than having to generate the correct spelling from memory.

If your child needs some practice over the summer or some reminders when school begins again in August, try a few of these spelling tactics. Your son or daughter might not be heading to the National Spelling Bee, but they might catch a few more errors in their writing.

Use What is Already There

  • I often have students misspell words that appear in the test or assignment. Practice looking back through a paper and comparing your spelling to words that are provided in questions or directions or even a word bank.
  • This strategy can also be useful if a child sees a word that rhymes. Rhyming words may have the same spelling pattern and the base part of the word can be copied. If you can spell rock, you might be more likely to spell sock with the CK ending. 
  • The same tactic would work if a child needs to change an ending on a word. If you see the word humid and need to write humidity, a child could make a reasonable guess using the original word given.

copying paragraphs

Practice Copying Words Correctly

  • The more often you spell a word correctly, the more likely you will spell it correctly in the future. There is muscle memory, and your hand memorizes the way letters connect (which is why cursive handwriting is important IMO). Think about writing your name. When I got married, it took awhile to retrain my hand not to automatically begin the letters of my maiden name.
  • If your child’s handwriting is really poor, and you have moved on to keyboarding, you can complete this same activity on the computer, although I think the act of handwriting is more effective.

Practice Adding Endings to Words

  • This is a great reminder about the spelling rules that we are taught directly or pick up through reading. Start with a base word like hop. Add a variety of endings and say aloud why/how the word changes. Hop becomes hopped, hopping, hops. For the ED and ING endings, we doubled the final consonant to protect that vowel sound. For the S ending, we did not need to protect the vowel sound because we were adding the consonant S. In this case, look at the word hoping. How is it pronounced? Why? What is the difference between hopping and hoping.

Practice Locating Mistakes

  • Look at a sentence or small paragraph with errors. Find the errors and make the necessary corrections.

Here are some other 4th grade tips for words that are often confused.

Separate

  • There is A RAT in the middle of the word sepA RATe.

Affect v. Effect

  • Affect is a verb (action– also starts with A). It will often have a helping verb nearby. If you can’t remember your helping verbs, I have a list here in the grammar plan. The storm did AFFECT our electricity.
  • If the word has ED on the end,  it should probably be AFFECT. We were AFFECTED by the power outage. This example also has the helping verb clue.
  • Effect is a noun. It will often have A, AN, or THE nearby and be the subject of the sentence. The EFFECT of the storm was devastating.

Desert v Dessert

  • Desert is a dry place because of little rainfall.
  • Dessert is the yummy treat you have after a meal. It has two S’s because you want two servings!

Their, They’re, or There

  • Their is possessive; it shows ownership. If you can replace their with the word his or her, and the sentence makes sense, use THEIR. We went swimming at their pool. We went swimming at his pool.
  • They’re means they are. Read the sentence with the words they are. If it sounds right, use the contraction. They’re swimming at the neighbor’s pool. They are swimming at the neighbor’s pool. In fact, any time you are dealing with a contraction, use the complete words to check yourself. The replacement word test for their and they’re will work when checking it’s and its. Try using it is and his or her.
  • There is a location. If the replacement words used above sound funny, use THERE. You can also sometimes replace there with at that placeWe will be swimming there. We will be swimming at that place.

Too

  • Too has an extra O because you have more, extra.
  • If you can replace too in a sentence with also or so, you probably need TOO. That soup is too hot, and it burned my tongue. That soup is so hot, and it burned my tongue. I want to eat soup too. I want to eat soup also

I have teaching materials for commonly misspelled words, spelling rules, and spelling patterns. To purchase spelling resources from my TeacherPayTeacher store, CLICK HERE.

Author! Author!

selznick and klise letters

TheRoomMom blog is part parenting tips and part teacher tips (with some snacky food and book ideas thrown in). Today, the teacher part of my blog is featured on the Teaching Blog Addict.

“Contacting Book Authors” is the featured activity in their weekly teacher freebie list. The best part is, I did not even know I had been selected!

If you need an activity to build a little excitement for any summer reading assignments you may have, try contacting the book author. We had great success last year. Here are a few of the authors who replied:

  • Brian Selznick (Wonderstruck and Invention of Hugo Cabret)
  • Tom Angleberger (Origami Yoda series)
  • Leslie Connor (Crunch)
  • Julie Edwards (Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles— letter was from her “fan mail coordinator”)
  • J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter— form letter)
  • Cressida Cowell (How to Train Your Dragon series)
  • Annie Barrows (The Magic Half)
  • Sheila Turnage (Three Times Lucky)
  • Kate Klise (Dying to Meet You series)
  • Patrick Carmen (Floors— took 9 months to receive a reply!)
  • Erica Orloff (Magickeepers series)
  • Obert Skye (Wonkenstein and Potterwookie)
  • Lisa Schroeder (It’s Raining Cupcakes)
  • Jacqueline Kelly (The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate)

Picture of Free Teacher Downloads at Teaching Blog Addict

End of Year Writing Portfolios

writing portfolio binder

Several months ago I submitted my name to guest post on the teaching blog, All Things Upper Elementary. Today’s the day that my post goes live! In my guest post, I share one of my favorite teaching projects of the year. My students always create an end of year writing portfolio to showcase their writing (and growth in writing) from the school year.

Whether you are a parent or a teacher (or a writer) being able to look back through a year’s worth of work is always a thrill. In the case of my students, there are obvious changes in handwriting, sentence structure, word choice, and style. Since I am with my students every day, I am not always aware of how much they improve over the course of nine months. As soon as my students complete their portfolios, and I can compare writing from August to the writing from April, it is immediately obvious how much a child’s writing can progress in a school year.

portfolio requirements

My students use a 3-ring binder and select favorite writing from the year based on a checklist I give them. They organize the writing with a table of contents. Since we complete this project at the beginning of May, these portfolios often end up as Mother’s Day presents (hint, hint).

my children's work

With my own children, I keep *significant* project and writing samples that come home. I deposit these special items in a big pile on a shelf in my closet (and secretly throw away school work that does not make the cut when THEY are not looking). At some point during the summer, I sort the stack and organize the work into a storage box with Miss Priss and Mr. Star Wars’ name/year on the front. Then, I am ready to start over again in the fall.

If you have not already clicked through to my post at All Things Upper Elementary, feel free to do so now. The writing portfolio teacher instructions and handouts are available for free at my Teachers Pay Teachers store. Happy almost end of the school year!

portfolio samples

Word Trains

Bifocals Word Train bigger

Some of my favorite teaching ideas happen on the fly. My students completed the final lesson in our vocabulary book this week. The vocabulary book is based on Latin roots, common prefixes, and suffixes. Now that it is the end of the year and our “root bank” is full, students have been noticing words all over the place that are combinations of the roots and prefixes we studied all year (Yeah!– something stuck).

So, here is what happened. We studied the root “loc” this week, which is in the word “locomotion”. “Loc” means to move from place to place. A student recalled that we already knew the root “mot” meaning to move or to do. And then the game began.

Have you ever played 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon with movie actors? The Word Train game is the nerdy teacher variation of that game.

  1. You begin with a word that contains 2 known parts like DISORGANIZED (dis and organ).
  2. Connect it with another 2+ part word that shares a root, prefix, or suffix from the original word like ORGANIST (organ and ist).
  3. Add a third word that shares the newly added word part like ACTIVIST (ist and act).
  4. Keep going from there by adding REACT then RECAPTURE then CO-CAPTAIN then COOPERATE then OPERATOR.
  5. To really play like the Kevin Bacon game and test a student’s word knowledge, give them the first word and the last word in the word train and ask them to create the connection. For example, try to get from reheat to illiterate.
Capture Word Train

Click on the picture to view the sample

This was a great vocabulary review, and the students got supercompetitive (super is a prefix from our list, by the way). We have standardized testing coming up, and I am trying to practice reading comprehension and vocabulary skills. This activity forced the students to look at word parts and give definitions based on the parts. It is much more strategic than memorizing definitions.

How many words can you connect? My record is 9. I am sure I could go further if I pulled any word root, not just the ones from my 4th Grade Common Prefix, Root, and Suffix List. Can you beat me? My students did. To download the complete lesson plans for free, click here.

A Word Train

Click on the picture to view the sample

I apologize for the tiny pictures. I kept resizing, and I could not get them to appear larger in the post. If any web experts have advice, please share.