One of the problems with children’s writing can often be about getting them to recognise and deal with different types of formal writing. Text messaging, e-mail and social media communication do not require the same levels of formality as filling out forms, writing ‘snail mail’ letters, writing newspaper/journalism articles and other kinds of structured writing.
The primary school where I work does teach reportage and journalistic style by encouraging the children throughout key stage two to write newspaper articles and reviews.
Writing letters is an art which is not always covered in primary school however, although it may be picked up at a higher level of education, when children study life skills which will include filling in application forms and writing formal letters.
A wonderful way to introduce children to the art of letter writing could be to invite them to write with a real purpose in mind. You could choose an author they admire, or one you are doing a project on in class and write to them. You could choose a cause you are studying in class, like the environment, and get the children to write to their local MP or council. It helps to choose a recipient for the letters where you are more likely to get an answer.
Knowing that they will receive an answer to their letters is a sure fire way to engage a child’s enthusiasm. If the children have a favourite author you may want to write to their publisher first, for example, as they are more likely to answer and/or pass the letter on. Doing your research before children embark on a letter writing project is invaluable.
Another way of getting children to learn to write letters is to forge ties with a different school, preferably one in an exciting place. Our year three children have close ties with a school in Chicago, and have pen pals in their equivalent year group there. They are always keen to write to them, as the children are all fascinated by the idea of what it is like to live in America.
Another way to get them excited about writing letters is to introduce them to the art of the envelope.
Teaching them where to put the address and what needs to be included on the address details is crucial, but you can also encourage them to decorate the envelopes and express their personality through their artwork.
There is a long tradition of decorating envelopes, particularly by artists and authors. Nosy Crow, tan independent children’s publisher, have a book blog, and have written a blog post today about the wall of artist and author envelopes they have received, which you could use as inspiration for children if you decide to launch a short topic on the art of letter writing.
You can access the blog post here.