Too often, I find the curriculum focus in writing is disconnected and segmented from the rest of the curriculum. Perhaps that is a hazard of attempting to cram in so many genres of writing – all urgently needed – into one school year. Is it any wonder that, from time to time, a genre of writing such as functional letter writing is quickly forgotten after it seemed to be “mastered”. Yes, I do get the ridiculousness of that last statement.
This year, my grade level team has taken a second or could that be a third, look at our Writing Calendars – what we call a curriculum map. With the Common Core looming in our very near future, it seemed wise to do so. We’ve filled some gaps in our writing curriculum and revised when we teach particular writing genres. We’ve also moved away from more strictly adhered to requirements: our previous report writing focused on writing biographies of famous citizens of the Commonwealth.
This year, when the report project came up, I decided that I would tie it to the previously taught letter writing format and also use the reports as a jigsaw study of Massachusetts and Lowell, both of which are part of our Social Studies curriculum in Grade 3. Each student has been assigned a topic, will be expected to research and provide information about the topic, and will share that information in a classroom/student published book. As an example, students will discover and explain what each of the three branches of Massachusetts government do, or will find out about some of the cultural and natural resources available to us in Lowell. To my thinking, this is a greater bang-for-the-buck than the biography reports. It has taken some effort for me to convince students that they live in the CITY of Lowell in the STATE of Massachusetts (no, not the state of Lawrence or Boston).
The first step toward researching each topic was for students to write a business format letter to the agency that may be able to provide information about their topic. I have possibly spent about 4 hours gathering mailing addresses for each of the 25 topics that were generated.
Writing those letters, I have to admit was painful. Despite writing friendly letters weekly in Readers’ Response notebooks, when I conferenced with the students after they drafted their business letters, the basic letter format was hardly recognizable. Added to the friendly letter format was the inside address, the generalized greeting used in a business letter, and the more formal language of requesting information. Some of the students’ letters were very sincere and at times amusing, particularly the promises to do a good job of reporting if only the student could please be sent some information.
I hope the recipients of these requests find them amusing enough to send a brochure back. Next week, we’ll begin using text and Internet resources for research.