Last week I received a letter from an old friend. Yes, I do mean an actual, physical letter. He simply wrote to see how I was faring while sheltering in place and wanted to pass on a few words of encouragement. The message could have been sent in a brief email, but to be honest, I was grateful he chose to send a letter instead. This period of social distancing has left many of us feeling isolated, and while we can still connect remotely through Zoom or social media, these resources often lack physical presence.
That’s the power of a letter; it’s physical, hand-written. It doesn’t matter if the writing is swoopy or scratchy because you know someone took the time to pen those words themselves. As educators, we understand the importance of physical presence. Many of us are currently navigating school closures and assisting our students through distance learning. The resources we’ve managed to create are certainly something to be proud of, but it hasn’t been easy and it’s not quite the same.
So, as we continue to adjust to the new reality of remote teaching, I think it might benefit us to go a little old-school. Here are five reasons why you should consider having your students write letters:
It Reduces Stress
Writing a letter can actually help your students reduce their stress. The act of writing allows you to organize your thoughts, putting you in a meditative or calming state, while engaging your fine motor skills. Given that many of our students are suffering from frustration and anxiety, this couldn’t be timelier. It’s also a great cognitive exercise to fight boredom. Lastly, writing on paper will let your students take their eyes off their screens. With so many of them glued to their computers all day, this will give their eyes a much-needed break!
It Promotes Healthy SEL
We’re all living under incredibly stressful conditions right now. Many are agitated with confinement, worried about the well-being of their friends and family, and lamenting lost trips or graduations. The effects can be even worse for our students, which is why it’s important we take this opportunity to promote some healthy SEL. Writing a letter is an ideal exercise for social-emotional learning because it engages all the necessary pieces. A letter teaches students how to manage their emotions, set goals, show empathy for others, and establish positive relationships while making responsible decisions. It’s the perfect all-in-one activity!
It Teaches English Language Arts
On a more practical angle, letter writing is a staple of the English Language curriculum. It compels students to consider things like theme, grammar, and vocabulary. How do you write a positive note? What kind of words would you use? What kind of questions should you ask? If you want to make things interesting, assign them to write a letter without using certain common words (make them break out that thesaurus)! It’s excellent practice for improving their linguistics skills, and by sending them to classmates, they get to share what they’ve learned.
It Supports the Post Office
The US Postal Service, like many American businesses, is suffering from a sharp decline due to the COVID-19 crisis. However, while restaurants and bookstores have received assistance from many charitable organizations, the USPS is still in dire straits. One way to support them is by sending letters and buying stamps. These simple actions can help infuse the postal service with some much-needed funds while reminding our elected leaders what a valuable service it provides. If you really want to take a stand, have your students write a letter to their local state representatives and demand they save the postal service!
It Makes the World a Better Place
Countless people have been affected by the spread of COVID-19, but none quite like our elders. They’re among the most vulnerable, and as a result, the measures to protect them have been among the most stringent. Very few have been able to visit their families in the recent months. Why not cheer them up by having students send them a letter? Better yet, take the chance to make the world a better place!
Older generations have so much to teach us—if we take the time to listen. Every community has people who have lived long, full lives with valuable stories, knowledge, and skills to share. By using the resources from Blue Apple’s Moments to Remember, have your students make friends with a resident of a retirement home by sending them a series of letters. Have them learn more about their senior friend through questions, then craft their correspondence into a meaningful biography!