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Letters to the Editor

Description 

This activity engages students in analyzing their audience, and adjusting their rhetoric according to audience characteristics. Students write letters about the same topic to the editors of two different publications that represent different groups of people. Their goal is to persuade both groups of people of the same thing, using arguments and rhetoric suited to each group. Through this activity, students develop a more sophisticated understanding of the craft of persuasion, and can become more savvy readers and writers of persuasive text.

Author 

catherine Ullman-Shade

Learning Strategies 

  • Synthesizing

Lesson Plan Stages 

  • Synthesis

Content Areas 

  • ELA
  • Science
  • Social Studies

Learning Strands 

  • Writing

Common Core Instructional Shifts 

  • Text-Based Answers
  • Writing from Sources

Preparation 

  • Select a topic that can have at least two positions, or prepare to allow students to select a position on a topic of their choice.

  • Identify a set of publications that represent different interest groups that might have varying stakes in the topic. For example, if the topic is gun control, you could select a hunting magazine, or the town paper of Newtown, CT, or a magazine for gun enthusiasts. You could also think about selecting publications written for different age groups, such as younger children, teens, and adults.

  • Write model letters about a different topic to two different publications. Think about how you can explain how you adapted your argument and style according to each audience.
Activity Steps 
  1. Teacher shares the two model letters to the editor and thinks aloud about how the style and content of the argument was adjusted to the needs of each audience.

    Help students to understand how you identified the characteristics of each audience, and how you determined what style of writing, and what content of the argument, is most appropriate for that audience.

  2. Class discusses the controversial topic, and students select a position to take on the topic.
    • If you prefer, you can ask students to select their own topics. But in that case, you should arrange very short mini-conferences with each student to approve their topic choice.
    • It is also fine to use a topic that is less controversial (such as climate change), and for the whole class to take the same position¬†

     

  3. Class brainstorms a list of demographic and interest groups that might have different stakes in the topic. Each student selects two groups of people.

    If you want to shorten this activity, you can also assign the groups of people

  4. Working alone or in pairs, students do research to find publications that represent each of the groups of people.

    Students may need help with this step, so prepare to circulate among them and help them to identify appropriate publications. You may also choose to select a major newspaper that is generally conservative-leaning and one that is generally liberal-leaning, if the topic is politically oriented.

  5. Students make a list of characteristics of each group, and then list arguments, ideas, and craft features that might appeal to each group.

    Students may conduct online research for this step.

  6. Students write two letters to the editor, one to each publication.
    • The goal of each letter should be to convince that audience of the position they have taken. The style and content of the letter should be adapted to the unique characteristics of that audience.
    • Less-advanced students will need substantial scaffolding during this step.
    • You can choose to actually send the letters to the publications.
  7. In writing, students answer questions such as:

    Synthesis:

    • Why is it important to understand your audience?

    • How can you alter an argument for a different audience?

    Reflection:

    • What strategies can you use to analyze the intended audience of a piece of writing?

    • How can you use your understanding of audience to become a better reader?
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