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Writing Letters To Students

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I’ve written quite a bit about some of the challenges my students and I face at our inner-city high school, and some of the strategies and specific tactics I use to respond to them (see What Do You Do When You’re Having A Bad Day At School?)

One of the newer things I’ve been trying is writing a personal letter to a student, placing it in a sealed envelope with his/her name on it, and just giving it to him/her in a matter-of-fact way.   It’s been amazing to me to see the effect these letters have had.  I can’t believe I haven’t tried it before!

Here’s a sample of one (obviously, the name has been changed):

Dear Miguel,

I’m writing this letter to you because I really want you to hear how strongly I believe you have the ability to go far in life, and that I believe staying in school and doing well will help you get there.

I’m concerned since I understand that you told you mother that you “wanted to be like” your older brother and leave school.

You and I both know that, when you put your mind to it, school work is pretty easy for you.  However, for some reason, you often decide you just don’t want to do it.

Graduating from high school is going to open a lot of doors for you in life – for work and for further schooling or training.  I hope you make a decision to finish this school year strong and approach next year with a positive attitude.

You are very smart — as your essays and “make-and-breaks” have shown.  It would be sad – both for you and for others in your life (including me!) – if you chose not to use all the “smarts” that you do have.

Sincerely,

Mr. Ferlazzo

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

11 Comments

  1. I love this idea! There’s never a good, private time to speak with students about these kinds of things; a letter is perfect. I have about 110 students, so maybe I’ll aim for something brief to give out at the end of the year…

  2. Jo,

    If you can do 110, you’re a far, far more committed teacher than me!

    I figure I’ll do seven or eight all year — all with students having particular challenges in school.

    Larry

  3. I have 32 5th graders. I do an interactive letter with them. They write to me, I write back. Sometimes the correspondence goes for awhile, other times I pause and come back. Now, instead of having everyone write to me at once, I write 8 letters per week.

  4. That’s a great thing to do. It sound similar to a Dialogue Journal, a device often used in ESL classes.

    Larry

  5. I like this idea. I get a decent response with email to students and parents but I think the personal and physical approach of using a letter has a greater, tangible impact. Sometimes, in a digital world, person to person contact gets lost. Thanks for the example too!

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  7. This is a great idea! I sometimes feel nervous before student-teacher interviews and such (yes… I am the teacher)! I love the idea of encouraging a student through a personal letter. It gives the student time to think through a response too.

  8. When I was in high school, my English teacher wrote each of us a note before our IB test about what our strengths were and what we needed to be careful of on the exam. It made a huge impression on me of how well she knew me and how much she cared.

    I wanted to do something similar, so I write my kids year-end notes about things they do well. The notes are only three or four sentences long, since I have 125 students :), but the kids seem to find them pretty meaningful. I like it because it ends the year positively and gives them something to remember over the summer.

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  10. This is SUCH a nice idea. You’re right, you just never know how far and how great of an impact your letters might have. One day your letter could be the difference between a life ending or beginning. Keep up the good work and keep sharing–I love reading your tweets!!

  11. This is a silly example, I know, but when I ran my first pancake breakfast with 8th graders, I was worried. I knew how much I hated it when the person in charge is poorly organized and everyone has to wait to be told exactly what to do!

    So I divvied up the class into 3 teams and put 1 child at the head of each team. Then I wrote up all that had to be done in order. Then I wrote that they could decide for themselves what they wanted to do and how to do it. I put the 3 letters in envelopes, and handed them to the team leaders.

    Boy, did those kids take off! With hardly a question for me. They had finished much earlier than anyone had expected, and they asked for pizza. They got it, of course.

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