Summer Writing Assignments for Kids: Business Letter

I mentioned on my last post (the misc. meme) that one of my to do items was to help my son with his summer writing assignment. In case anyone is looking for ideas for fun academic activities for the kids over the break, I thought I’d share some of my assignments.

The first one is short and pretty straightforward: a business letter. I got the idea because when we went to IHOP recently to celebrate my husband’s birthday, we were all disappointed to see that they served our ten-year-old his o.j. in a styrofoam cup. Of course, this is pretty much the worst substance they could use! We were discussing this problem and my son seemed bothered, so I suggested that he write a letter to IHOP central office complaining about the incident. Voila! Instant assignment!

The trick in designing fun assignments is to find issues that matter to the writer, i.e., your kid. Then the rest is straightforward because all you have to do is show them the format. Below is the sample letter I wrote for my son; it’s really an assignment prompt without much content, but it follows a block style business letter format and thus served as a model. Feel free to use this yourself and modify as needed.

*****

Your name
Your street address
Your city, State zipcode

Date

Their name
Their street address
Their city, etc.

Dear Sir or Madame:

The first paragraph includes something nice about them. The idea is to take a “kiss-kick-kiss” approach. That means first you are very nice to them and that makes them receptive to what you are going to say. It’s important to say something that is really true, though! A good thing to mention to companies is that you are one of their customers, so, for example, you could talk about how much you enjoy going to IHOP with your dad and how it’s a special treat.

Then in the second paragraph you raise your concern or make the request for something you want from them. The tone needs to stay polite. It’s important to be as clear and specific as possible about what you want to happen and why. Here you need to give evidence to support your ideas, so in the case of the IHOP letter, you need to explain why Styrofoam is so bad for the environment (that might take some research, kiddo) and why you think they should do things differently. This might be a good place to give provide them with a suggestion about alternatives, so your feedback will be constructive and helpful rather than just a negative complaint.

In the final paragraph you go back to the kiss approach. Try to end with something positive like the expectation that with them being such a great company, they will want to address this concern of yours … or something like that. Again, it is important to be truthful. The last sentence of the final paragraph is where you thank them for their time and for considering your request.

Sincerely,

Your name typed (signature will be written in the three blank spaces above typed name)

*****

One last note in terms of writing process: I had my son write a rough draft after he did a little research on styrofoam. I turned off the microsoft word automatic spell/grammar check, so he would not be distracted by squiggly lines under misspelled words and thus be tempted to edit his rough draft. It’s important for kids to get away from trying to write a finished piece with their first draft. The rough draft is getting ideas down and should not be perfect! The day after he wrote the first draft, we went over it to see how content, organization, word choice, and voice could be improved through revision. He found out that he needed more research and that his details were pretty vague, so he revised. Again, spellcheck was kept off.

Next, I will print a copy of his revised piece, and on Monday we will go over it together to edit sentence-level mistakes such as spelling and punctuation. I use a “minimal marking” approach: I put a check mark in the margin on the line where there is a mistake, not circling the mistake itself or writing a note about what mistake was made, but instead merely alerting him to the presence of an error somewhere on that line. (This approach helps the writer to learn to correct his own mistakes much better than when a teacher finds errors for him.) Then we will go over those check marks together, and see how many of them he can figure out himself. The ones he can’t figure out, I’ll help him with. I’m also keeping a list of spelling words that emerge from his own writing.

Final draft gets printed, signed, and actually mailed. It’s important for kids to feel that they have a voice. Writing a business letter to a company about an issue that matters to the child can really empower them. Hopefully, my son will receive a written answer from them, thereby providing positive reinforcement that his voice was heard. This assignment can also be modified to become a letter to an elected official, and therefore it serves double-duty as citizenship training, as well! Anyway, you get the idea….

If anyone uses these ideas, please let me know how it works out!

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11 Responses

  1. Sounds like a great idea. Good luck. I’ll be anxious to hear how he does. I could not keep mine interested in anything that sounded that much like school work when they were on vacation. They might start out like gangbusters, but we had to finish fast before the enthusiasm wore off.LOL.

  2. Yeh, we shall see how it goes. I’m pretty determined that we will do this the whole summer except the three weeks in July I’m out of the country. I’m billing it as, “You will appreciate the freedom of the rest of your day SO much more if you first fulfill this responsibility. Plus, next year school will be a LOT easier.” So far, he’s buying it. But we shall see…. Ah, well, anything he does along the way will be helpful.

  3. Great template! BTW, we were just at Fuddruckers for a Father’s Day Eve dinner. They use Styrofoam cups, too.

    Maybe they think it’s still the ’70s.

  4. Sounds like you might want to have the kids write a letter, too! Unbelievable these guys. I just don’t understand how they can keep using this junk when it so clearly is polluting our planet.

  5. […] Posted on June 28, 2008 by writinggb Today, my son received a letter from IHOP responding to his first summer writing assignment, a business letter complaining about their use of Styrofoam cups. You may recall that he was upset […]

  6. thank you for your help i am trying to teach an eleven year old how to write a letter

  7. Oh, you are so welcome! I’m glad to be of help. It’s challenging, I know!

  8. I’m a second year engineering student with ‘composition’ test in fifteen minutes and I had(until now) no idea as to what the official letter format is. Now I do thanks to you(the other links on google werent’ very helpful).

  9. Thanks.

  10. Glad to be of use! Your composition class was assigning business letters?

  11. When I have had my class write business letters, they love it. Two years ago after DARE, they wrote to our state politicians in support of the proposed state ban on smoking in public places. The ones who got replies were beside themselves! (But even though they wrote to different Senators and Reps, they realized it was a class project and stopped replying. What a shame because the kids had learned so much in the DARE program!)

    Please let us know if they write back!

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