Today was a day of worn-down pencils and sore hands for my students. I teach three sections of grade five language arts and reading, and all three sections worked like little monks scribing all period. As part of a project sponsored by a local group, our students are exploring post-secondary education options by writing business letters (fifth grade indicator) to Ohio colleges requesting information and hopefully, a pennant to display at school. Instead of having the students compose their own letters, I used a sample that was given to me in a packet of materials from the organization last summer when I attended a seminar. The group also paid for postage and a small stipend for stationery, which was great because I ended up footing the bill for a lot of postage last year when I pursued another letter-writing project.
It always amazes me how much kids like sending letters. They were all very careful of their cursive handwriting and making sure they got the format just right. I love "authentic" projects like this, because even though some kids may not get a response, they all treat it as serious, "official" business. The icing on the cake are the replies. Last year's project was a name game book, and I had students look up celebrities who had the same name as theirs and write letters requesting autographs. Some celebrities who replied were Steven Segal (sp?), Rachel Ray, Michael Jordan, Raquel Welsh, and Kyle Busch, among many others. The letters, photos, and trading cards the students received were scanned into their books, and then they got to take their keepsakes home. If anyone is interested in the Name Game lesson plans and grading rubrics, email me or leave a comment, and I will make arrangements to get all that info to you.
I used the Student Treasures Company who sends out free book kits to teachers. This is a great company because their kits are free, postage is free, and the only catch is that a K-2 grade has to participate because at that grade level, only the teacher gets a free class book that all the students create together. The company hopes that parents will purchase extra copies and this apparently brings in enough income that the company can extend the free hardback book offer to the other students who participate. I've used this company several times, and my students have written a local sesquicentennial history book that utilized trips to the local library, a walking tour of their town and speech from a local historian, and trips to the court house and county recorder's office. Other times kids have made autobiographies, ABC books, and cookbooks.
So, I hope all my students get something cool in the mail so they can brag about having written and honest-to-gosh, real, actual, prehistoric letter!