Communication today is instantaneous. We write emails, send chat requests on social media, and send GIFs and emojis via text messages. We know how people feel, where they are, and what they’re up to at any moment in time just by looking at a timeline or feed of information. Party invitations, wedding announcements, and other celebratory life events are now also shared via mobile and online communications. With communication becoming bite-sized and immediate, I wonder if we are losing the art of thoughtfully exchanging of ideas with others. Are we becoming less human when we engage less personally? Are we losing out as we become more efficient?
When was the last time you sat down, penned a letter, and put it in the mail? For many of us, the idea of visiting the post office or using an envelope and stamp is an awkward experience. Why write a letter if you can Skype or FaceTime or direct message? The idea of writing a physical letter might be an archaic concept, but it’s a skill worth cultivating in our children. Letter writing is a great way to improve writing and communication skills. It allows the sender to organize their thoughts into a story, think about their recipient and what they’d like to learn from the other person, practice their writing style and voice, as well as, practice handwriting coordination. Despite the many benefits of digitization, the experience of letter writing can be a great way to substitute a creative writing exercise that also helps social emotional development.
One of our goals this year is to improve our language arts skills; primarily the application of grammar rules, use of language- capitalization and punctuation, and the use of supportive evidence. Generally my daughter grumbles when I ask her to come up with five paragraphs on a topic of her choice, but when I offered an opportunity to write her friend overseas, she willingly began to think about what she’d like to share with her friend. Without having to look up a writing prompt, we used letter writing as an opportunity to write three to four pages of text! Why was she more engaged in this experience than a creative writing experience? It could be the result of her connecting with the reader in a personal way.
My little writers have a hard time connecting with the readers they cannot see. For them, writing has become a one way experience lacking any exchange of ideas or meaningful conversation. When using writing prompts, my daughter often gets frustrated because she either assumes the reader knows what she means, so she fails to include important details; or she assumes the reader knows absolutely nothing about the topic and she therefore over communicates her point. Finding that balance can be a challenge when you can’t visualize the imaginary dialogue happening between your words and the person reading them. Letter writing clearly establishes the audience, the topics, and the conversation. It’s a great writing experience to help young writers who find it difficult to focus their creative thoughts while providing direction for their ideas.
While helping my daughter work through her letter writing experience, I came up with a few tips for teachers, parents, and tutors helping young writers improve their language arts and communication skills.
Letter writing is one great way to work on language arts and communication skills. Depending on the recipient and where they’re located, having a pen pal is also a great social studies lesson as students learn about the experiences, geography, and culture of another part of the country or the world. Writing letters may seem like an ancient pastime, but in the age of instantaneous and often emotionless oversharing, a well thought through letter is the perfect way to blend empathy training with good writing practices.
I'm a former teacher and former college athlete, currently working in edtech. My mission is to get parents to partner with their child's teacher.