Why I Love Letter-Essays

Around December each year, my students are ready to begin writing letter-essays (usually after a few weeks of learning how to write literary essays and respond to our reading).  While responding to almost 50 letter-essays is enough to drive me crazy, not to mention the thought of having 100 of them next year, I love it.  

In their letter-essays, my students write me friendly letters about the novel they are reading or just finished reading.  The letters must be a page long and are not book reports- very little summary is included and there are no strict guidelines to follow.  Instead, I ask them to tell me about their thinking.  We have studied literary essays and spend the first half of the year working our way up from short responses to longer ones, so by December they are ready.  I also include a list of sentence starters for talking about reading and metacognition (in case they get stuck).  While they are usually hesitant at first, the letters are always awesome!  And there is very little pressure- I grade on a 4-point scale.  

We recently finished the first month’s letters and I am thrilled with the work my students have done so far!  They explain why they are reading what they are reading, what they like about it, what they don’t like about their books, how they choose their books, and so much more.  It’s a window into their world and the thinking that they do.  And I love that this is an assignment that my best readers and more reluctant readers can both do with ease.  No one is right or wrong.  And I learn even more about my students as readers, so I can help them pick books they will hopefully love.  

One of my students is reading The Luxe and she had this to say in her letter-essay:

Thank you for recommending The Luxe by Anna Godberson. This book is by far one of the best books I’ve ever read. It is full of romance, mystery, and even some jealousy. By reading this book, it has made me realize that I love mystery books, because it starts out at her funeral, I wonder how that happened. And, this really looks like a series that you could be getting used to seeing me read. 

And the best part is that she has been watching me read Envy: A Luxe Novel and she mentioned how it inspired her to pick up The Luxe.  That makes me one proud teacher!

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2 Responses

  1. I love this idea, and the thought process and genuine conversation about literature/reading that it encourages. I am interested in learning abut the specific sentence starters that you provide for your students. I have several students who languish over getting started and I think this would be really helpful.
    thanks!

  2. Hi, I was also interested in your sentence starters for talking about reading and metacognition and helping students to get started. I like your structure of having students write how they chose the book, what they liked and disliked about it, and their thoughts in general about reading the book. Thanks for sharing!

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