When I was a child, letters were really relevant to me. I waited by the front door for the postman, because he might have a letter from my dad. And when one finally did drop through the door, my heart would skip a beat. Those letters had strange and beautiful stamps on them, from Mauritius, or the Seychelles, or Kenya. The paper was thin and we had to open the folded pages carefully or they would tear. Those letters told me the story of where he was. They had a deep, emotional relevance to me.
Say you want your students to write letters, how can you make it feel relevant to them? These days, receiving and writing letters may not be within their direct experience of the world. But ‘relevance’ is not about withholding experiences and knowledge that children have not yet met, in favour of what they already ‘like’. It is about making what you are learning feel relevant to the students, where it’s possible. Giving it a sense of purpose. That’s all. It won’t happen all the time, but sometimes, why not ask: can I find a connection to hook them into this?
The Provocation: The class receive a letter from a local supermarket, presenting their plans to extend their car park into the school playing grounds. They are offering a substantial sum of money to the school, and they want the children’s input. We’ll have to reply to their letter.
Always Stories: The children have been reading the story of the Three Little Pigs. Have you had enough of this wolf? Yes! Then let’s write him a letter to tell him to stop, that might work.
Future Proof: The children create a Time Capsule, to celebrate the new school garden. They write letters to their future selves and choose objects to put inside. Then they bury it deep in the ground.
The Personal Touch: You set up a letter-writing link with a school overseas. The children meet via the Internet and pledge to write each other letters, sharing stories about their countries, and their local area.
Whispers from the Past: There’s a box somewhere, with those old letters in it. I must dig it out. How lovely it would be to share them. Perhaps some of the children’s parents or grandparents have old letters too? That would be wonderful.
A Post Box appears in the corner of your classroom. It is red, and shiny, with a black slot. The Jolly Postman is coming soon, you say, showing them the book. We’d better write some letters for him to pick up.