Students will be able to communicate their views about a political issue in a letter to the editor.
Note to the teacher:
Before teaching this lesson, identify a local paper that publishes letters to the editor, and locate their submission requirements (especially word count, submission method, and what contact information is required). If possible, also identify one to three recently published letters from that local paper that demonstrate effective writing techniques, to use as examples. The lesson also supplies sample letters.
Why write letters to the editor?
Share the following letter with students. It is also included in this handout.
Did you know that letters to the editor are one of the most powerful ways that you can make a difference on issues that are important to you?
Here’s why. Letters to the editor reach a wide audience, going far beyond your immediate circle of friends. Because only a few letters are published in the paper each day, your opinion can make a strong impression and sway many other people to take action with you.
I should know. Since I began writing letters to the editor a few years ago, I’ve been amazed by how often friends and neighbors stop me to say that they read my letter and appreciated my ideas.
In particular, letters to the editor can affect your elected officials, who regularly search for their names in your local paper in order to hear what constituents are saying about them. What better way to convince your government to take action, than by calling on it publicly in a letter to the editor?
Even in this modern age of social media, many people still care about letters to the editor – particularly thoughtful people who vote regularly. Want more voters on your side? Write a letter to the editor today!
– A fellow American
Ask students to reflect:
- Have you ever written a letter to the editor?
- Why might letters to the editor be important?
- If you could convince the public or the government (federal, state or local) to take action on one issue, what would it be?
What makes a good letter to the editor?
Ask students to think about this question: “What makes a good letter to the editor?” They should discuss with a partner one thing they notice about the above letter to the editor or how it is written. Then, invite students to briefly share what they notice, and as they do, take a few notes on the board about the features of a good letter to the editor.
Next, have students break into three groups, and give each group a different example of a letter to the editor.
Three examples are provided in the handout. But you may wish to substitute one or all examples with letters published in your local paper.
Invite each group to read its letter and answer some or all of the following questions together:
- How does the letter begin?
- How quickly and clearly does the letter make its point?
- What kinds of information and arguments does it include?
- How does the author establish credibility or authority?
- Is it clear why the topic matters?
- Who is the letter’s intended audience?
- How does the letter appeal to its audience?
- What decision or action does the letter want the audience to take?
- How does the letter end?
- How long is the letter?
Ask groups to share their findings with the whole class. As they do, add to your notes on the board about the features of a good letter to the editor.
As a class, brainstorm several topics of current, personal, and/or local interest, about which students might want to write letters to the editor. Also share with students the word limit and submission process for submitting letters to the editor of your local newspaper, if they wish.
In groups or alone, students should plan and draft their own letters to the editor. As students develop drafts, ensure that they check each draft (with peers’ help) against the features of quality letters that the class generated before. This work may continue beyond a single class.
Ask each student to share one word or sentence that sums up what they hope their letter will communicate to the public.