Teachers at Work
A column about teaching
You've Got Mail: The Art of the Thank You
In September, my younger child turned 16. The day before her birthday, I opened the mailbox and pulled out a blue envelope. Her paternal grandparents had sent her a card. Her face lit up, and not just because there was a check inside. She'd gotten mail.
The idea of "you've got mail" has evolved. No longer is it getting something with a cancelled stamp. It's often "you've got mail" means a Facebook message, text and/or an email.
As part of the letter writing my classes are doing this year, we're actually going back to the lost art of handwritten letters. Specifically, my classes are writing thank you notes and apology notes, and doing this meets four of the common core writing anchor standards (2, 4, 5, 10). The kids bring in blank note/greeting cards, envelopes and stamps. The thank you assignment works as follows:
- Think about all the times you've been grateful. Who were the people involved in the event or time? Brainstorm a list.
- Thinking along these lines, choose one of these times. Then choose a recipient for your thank you note.
- Write a list of reasons you are thankful to this person. Be specific.
- Create follow up statements. Not only why are you thankful, but how will you change/grow/use the gift, etc.
- Using these lists, draft a paragraph that clearly thanks the person and tells why you are thanking him/her.
- Add the salutation and the closing.
- You now have your draft. Proofread for errors in spelling, capitalization, grammar, etc.
- You will transfer this letter onto your greeting card. Put the salutation in the upper left corner of the main portion of the card. Put the date in the right corner. The closing is at the end and followed by your name. You are handwriting this, so make sure your handwriting is legible. Penmanship counts.
- At this point you will address your envelope. Do not seal the envelope and turn in.
Most students often thank a teacher or even their parents. Some thank coaches. The apology letter is very similar—I actually have the directions on the same sheet. For this letter, students think about all the times they've hurt someone or done something wrong. (I tell them we're not asking for big item/12 step like things.) I ask them to think about the people involved. Then, thinking along these lines, students choose one of these times and choose a recipient for your apology note. Then, like the thank you note, they write a list of reasons they are sorry to this person and create follow up statements.
I offer to proof read each draft, and I mark the drafts using proofreading/editing notations. If necessary, I also discuss with each student the tone of his letter and his word choice, as the students will be scored on the following: proper spelling/punctuation/grammar/sentence structure/etc.; proper letter format; content/writing; tone/word choice; and whether it went in the mail. I actually teach students how to address envelopes because (unless their parents have had them write thank you notes) for many this is the first time they've ever addressed an envelope. I do keep a stack of blank note cards in my room for the kids who don't have them (they need to ask me privately; I don't offer) and I tell everyone they can pay me 50 cents for a stamp (I'm not dealing with penny change) if they forget to bring one on their own. (If you work in a lower socio-economic area, you may want to provide stamps.)
I do not make any marks on the item before it goes in the mail. Instead, I have a scoring guide I use and I'll make my notes on this. I call students up and have them do the final stuffing and sealing of the envelope. Don't be surprised, though, if most of the grades on these are 100 percent. If students have worked with you and shown you their drafts, there really shouldn't be any mistakes.
This is actually a pretty powerful assignment. For many students, it's the first time they've ever done this. I even model for them what a blank greeting card looks like. These are skills kids need to know, for they'll be thanking people for graduation gifts, baby shower gifts, wedding gifts, job interviews, etc. I tell my students I drop handwritten thank you notes into the mailboxes of co-workers who have helped me out. A handwritten note goes a long way, and my kids learn this, especially when they hear from the recipient. It's a practical application, a real world writing skill that lets them feel they have power over their world. That's a pretty awesome thing.