One of my favorite times of the year is when my students begin to write to me about their reading life both about their Just Right (JR) book and personal opinions about their book. That week quickly approaches with the first week of November. I call these student letters "Dear Mrs. Caplin letters" This idea comes from the mentor text that I use called Dear Mrs. LaRue Letters from Obedience School. I have spent two weeks getting ready to launch my students into Mrs. Caplin letters. This year I believe I finally have come up with an organized system that really taught my students the importance of letter writing as a genre.
I start the conversation with reading Dear Mrs. La Rue aloud to my class, and the students just listened. The huge connection this year came when I asked the students to write a letter as homework to Mrs.LaRue on suggestions on how to help Ike come back home after obedience school. We then discussed how the book is organized which starts with a newspaper article, then many letters from disgruntled Ike, and finally ends with another newspaper article. I have made overheads of many of the letters, so the students come up and underline what they like about the letter and these examples build our TREMENDOUS LETTER chart. Using this anchor chart, the light bulbs went off when the students used the same criteria to judge their own letter. This was a huge learning curve because most of the students did not have the criteria, so they worked hard on making their letter TREMENDOUS! What a great way for them to understand and practice the criteria that I will use to create a rubric to assess their DEAR letter.
From this point, I wrote the students a letter as a model as well as writing a letter to the parents explaining the DEAR letters. One important aspect for me as well as the students is that they get to pick their day on which the letter is due to me. Which means the week the letters are due,I will get letters turned in on every day but that works for me especially with spreading the reading of the letters out over the week. They will write a letter about every three weeks. The key to success for DEAR letters is the conversation that I have with my students by writing back to them-actually I write all over their letters -questions, comments, suggestions, ideas about other books as well as a personalized conversation that I really value as a teacher. For me DEAR letters are one of the key components in connecting my reading and writing in my class!