Everyone would agree "You've got mail" are sweet words to our ears. In these email days the social grace of letter writing has almost faded into oblivion. How long has it been since you found a nice long letter in your mailbox, words from a dear friend or relative? A letter says of itself that the writer thought of you and thought it worth his time to communicate. I love to receive a letter and savor each line and reread them. Letters are rare and our society as a whole is poorer for this loss. When a student learns to write letters he gains a skill that will be of benefit to him all his life. Every child should learn the basic forms of letter and how to address and mail an envelope. Furthermore, this study may also help to inspire the reluctant writer.

Letter writing is no longer a necessity, seeming to be outmoded by telephone and Internet communication. Yet, a student can find an outlet and positive writing experiences outside the textbook realm with "snail mail". Letter writing is a real life activity, giving the pupil an opportunity to realize a purpose in his learning.

Be forewarned that few people will respond to a letter. However, getting occasional free stuff, or a rare personal epistle addressed to himself, is a wonderful reinforcement for the writer. The best chance of assuring your student some return mail is to find a pen pal (such as a grandparent, for example) who will agree to correspond regularly.

I began my project by collecting materials that I thought would encourage my eight and nine year old boys to write. At the Dollar store I picked up blank greeting cards and some stationery with frogs and sailboats. The post office sells many fun, collectable stamps, post cards and stationery. (Be careful to purchase postcard stamps also.) A local tourist stop had postcards with pictures of our locality. Next, we collected pencils, pens and colored ink pens. We also purchased lined, neon-colored paper with matching envelopes, some stencils, as well as packages of stickers. As we gathered our supplies, the boys became more interested. You may add address labels, but it never hurts a student to practice writing his own address. We also purchased an address book for each student and had him copy into it the addresses of family and friends that he planned to write to.

We began with the friendly letter. The boys chose to write to their grandpa about a fishing trip they had been on. The greatest motivation for letter writing is to receive one in return. Therefore, encourage the students to write to someone who is likely to respond. Next, try some note cards and send post cards to some friends. Later, the student will write a business letter. I used the book, The First Book of Letter Writing by Helen Jacobson and Florence Mischel. Simple books on letter writing should be readily available at your local library.

Teach your students the following parts of a friendly letter:

  • Heading (consists of the writer's address and the date)
  • Salutation (friendly greeting, usually dear and the person's first name
  • Body of letter
  • Closing (casual, such as Love, Your friend, or Yours,)
  • Signature
  • Postscript (P.S., meaning "after something written")

You can also teach your students some of the basic guidelines for a good letter:

  • Tell about what's happening.
  • Use descriptive details.
  • Converse Freely. Be yourself.
  • Don't use the word "I" too much.
  • Ask questions that show an interest in the person you are writing to.
  • Leave clues as to your interests.

With the letter mailing, the student learns to write his return address, and where and how to place the stamps and addresses. As he writes, he can collect new addresses in his personal address book.

A good way to write letters (and teach etiquette at the same time) is to practice the thank you note. When we had birthday parties, we filled out invitations and later thank you notes for gifts and even for attending. A thank you note can be for any reason—"You made my day." "You make me happy." "You are a special friend." etc.