Math = Love: Universal Letter Writing Week 2014

Friday, January 17, 2014

Universal Letter Writing Week 2014

I don't think it's any secret that I LOVE holidays.

Daily Celebration

Every day, I look up a weird and wacky holiday that is celebrated on the current date to share with my students.  My kids love this.  And, almost every day, I have at least one student ask me if it is really that holiday.  Some of them seem to think that I just make up something each day for the holiday.  Uh no.  I look up the daily celebration online.  Someone who is way more creative than me has invented these holidays!

Yesterday was "National Nothing Day."  Of course, I had this written on the board.  This led to this conversation:

Student: Oh, it's National Nothing Day.  Does that mean we don't have to do anything today?
Me: Ha. Ha. No.
Student: Well, you're not in the holiday spirit today!

I may not have let my students celebrate National Nothing Day in the way they wished, but we have been celebrating this week.  This is my second year to celebrate Universal Letter Writing Week with my students.  This is one of those things I do that is not mathematical.  It isn't tied to any standard or mathematical practice.  There are several reasons that I have my students participate in this celebration.

1.  I treasure the notes that students have given me.
2.  I absolutely love getting mail.  And, I know I'm not alone in this.
3.  Teaching is often a thankless profession.
4.  Writing letters gets students writing.  Writing is ALWAYS good.
5.  Writing letters of thanks to teachers and staff members is even better.
6.  Origami envelopes are fun to fold.  And, they look so cute all stacked together.
7.  Colored paper makes my day.
8.  From last year, I know just how much these notes mean to the recipients.
9.  I firmly believe that this project leads to a boost in staff morale.

This does take away from instructional time, but I've weighed the pros and cons.  And, in my case, the pros far outweigh the cons.  The project starts out with lots of colored paper.
Colored Paper for Letter Writing
We celebrated Universal Letter Writing Week for 3 days.  On Day 1, students were required to write a letter to a high school teacher.  On the Smart Board, I typed up the name of every single teacher that students could pick from.  I intentionally left my name off of the list.  This week was not about me getting letters.  It was about encouraging those around me.

Stacks of Completed Letters, Waiting To Be Delivered

On Day 1, students take the longest time to choose who they are writing to and actually write their letters.  I had to talk a lot about how to write a letter.  Do you put a comma after dear?  How do you spell "sincerely"?  What should I say?  Once everybody had finished their letter (10 minutes or so), I walked students through the steps to fold an origami envelope.  I modeled this under the document camera.  (I love that thing!)  It probably took us about 5 minutes for everyone to fold their envelope.  The origami folds are not hard at all.  But, for students who are unaccustomed to following directions, it can be a real challenge!

Last year when I did this project, I had several teachers who did not receive a single letter.  I felt terrible about this, and I did not want it to happen this year!  To keep this from happening, I highlighted the names of all the teachers who had received a letter after each class period.  Students didn't have to pick from the unhighlighted names, but I encouraged them to write a letter to one of the teachers who wasn't highlighted if they could.  Every teacher got at least two letters.

This picture from last year gives a better view of how the origami envelopes turn out looking.

(Read more about how to fold the envelope here!)

On Day 2, I gave the students a list of people who work in our school that aren't teachers.  This included the principal, the librarian, both secretaries, the counselor, the janitor, the two cafeteria ladies, the IT guy, the superintendent, the secretaries in the superintendent's office, and the ladies who work in our Indian Education Program.  I sat a Smart Board timer for 5 minutes.  When the timer went off, students had to fold up their letter.  Afterwards, we jumped into the day's lesson.

On the third and final day, I gave students the option to write a letter to whomever they wished.  I told them that if I knew the person, I would gladly deliver their letter for them.  But, if I didn't know the person, they would have to deliver it themselves.  Again, I sat the timer for five minutes.  Some students wrote to classmates.  Others wrote to teachers.  Still, others wrote to family members.  Some students even took this as an opportunity to write me a sweet note.  That made me smile!    

What made me smile more was the look on people's faces when I got the chance to deliver their letters.  Many teachers remembered the project from last year, so their faces immediately lit up upon seeing a familiar-looking stack of letters in my hand.  Helping make other people's days makes my day.  Delivering letters is easily in the top 5 things I get to do during the school year!    

Some of my students insisted on delivering their own letters.  This was perfectly fine.  By the time I delivered the rest of the letters to one of our English teachers, she had already been touched by the notes students had written her.  She thanked me for doing this activity with my students, and she emphasized how much it meant to her.  Our FACS teacher also pulled me aside to tell me how much the notes meant to her.  The expression on our janitor's face when I handed her a stack of 8 or so letters was priceless.  

Yesterday, as I was leaving school, I saw that our counselor had changed the message on the dry erase board outside her office.  If this message doesn't demonstrate the power of having your students write a single letter, I don't know what would.  If you can't see it, it reads: "Dear Students, Thank you so much for my letters!!  They made me cry--and I will cherish them forever!  Much love to you all!!"

Response to Universal Letter Writing Week
I realize that as I write this blog post, Universal Letter Writing Week is almost over.  You don't have to have a holiday as an excuse to have your students write letters, though.  I truly believe that this project will not only change your students' lives but your life and the lives of all those in your school as well.  Words are powerful.  Too often, my students only use their words to put others down.  Through these letters, students practiced saying thank you.  They practiced showing appreciation.  They practiced gratitude.  

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