Sunday, October 30, 2011

A True Test in Persuasion

I recently assigned a letter-writing task to my students. We were discussing persuasive writing and it just made sense to me to create an assignment that actually requred my students to be persuasive. Real-world applications are the new rage today (if you ask me). I mean, what sense does it make to create a writing assignment that is only shared between the student and me and noone else? No sense at all! So, in an attempt to truly challenge them, I presented the following task. They had to first find a picture of themselves with a family member when they were younger. Next they had to mail it to that family member and persuade them to write about their memory of that particular moment in time. Finally, they had to convince this family member to send the original letter, the picture, and what they wrote, to me, through the mail. This all had to be done by a designated time. I gave them an entire month to complete this assignment keeping in mind how long it takes to mail a letter and then have someone else turn around and mail it again.

Sound interesting yet? Wait, it gets better. Here is my favorite part. The student's entire grade relies solely on the response that I get in the mail. If the letter doesn't make it to me - they fail. If the letter doesn't have all of the contents inside - they lose points. If the letter is not descriptive enough - their grade will suffer. "That's not fair!" Was the typical reponse from my students. I had to reassure them that if I didn't get the letter in time it was their fault because they weren't persuasive enough to convince their family member to respond in a timely manner!

I created this assignment last year and decided to try it again this year in the hopes that it would help my students see how powerful their words are. You know just as much as I do, that people just don't write letters anymore. And the generation that misses it the most would be the grandmas and grandpas out there. That's why I recommended that my students write to their grandparents. I new it would mean so much to them to get an actual letter in the mail from their grandchild! Something even more special actually happened though during this assignment. As I read each letter, I learned more and more about experiences my students had during their younger years. Teachers only get to spend one year with their students, and often don't get the opportunity to hear about stories from their past. Each memory shared by an aunt or uncle, or grandma or grandpa, was heartfelt and quite sweet. The words on the pages ocassionally triggered my own personal memories of times spent with family when I was younger. And I'm proud to say that I even got emotional while reading many of the letters.

Yes, words are powerful indeed. And if you want to teach your students or children real-world lessons, give them real-world challenges. Trust me, they will rise to the challenge and learn something valuable at the same time!