Postmistress. Such a fun word, but whenever I think of it, images of Elvira appear in my head..."Mistress of the Dark" and all that jazz. Weird, but true. I guess if I want to be politically correct, I should say Postmaster General. Anyway, I had a conversation with my local Postmaster General a few months ago and she was lamenting the fact that a college student walked into her post office the other day and asked her how to address a letter. A discussion about various topics including the state of education, lack of motivation among students, post office closures, and the general move from snail mail to email and now Facebook ensued. Then I mailed my package and went home.
This exchange reminded me of a letter writing activity that I created that was inspired by the fabulous Griffin and Sabine books by Nick Bantock. My best friend, SK, introduced these books to me when I was in high school and I was immediately drawn to their content, artistry, and uniqueness.
Based on the vocabulary and concepts, I would say these books are appropriate for high school students. In the first trilogy, the reader is brought into the perplexing yet intriguing correspondence between Griffin and Sabine. The book consists of postcards (the front of the postcard is on one page and the writing on the next page) and letters (you can remove the letter from the envelope), creating the sense of secretly reading letters between two people learning about each other's existence and trying to solve the mystery of how it all began and how it is supposed to continue. The art is incredible.
After introducing the premise of these books to my students, I have them break up into groups of four or five, look at the books, and talk about various aspects of the letters and postcards, such as effective writing, descriptive imagery, structure, and organization. They brainstorm ways they can use this format to analyze whatever book they're reading in my class. They then learn how to write a business letter (perhaps used with characters from Death of a Salesman) and a personal letter (the examples are endless). Each group is then responsible for writing six to eight letters that are at least two to three paragraphs each. They can use the letters to explain what characters are thinking at a particular spot in the reading or use their imaginations and create an alternate event or ending for the book or play we're reading. I've also used this to great effect with my literature circles when each circle was reading their own book.
I tried this activity with my creative writing students my first year of teaching and they created the most amazing correspondences. One was between a slave and a freeman, another was between a mother and child. I was so blown away by their writing and presentation that I had them their showcase their work and invited administrators, teachers, and other students to take a look at their final drafts.
The Griffin and Sabine books are definitely too sophisticated for elementary and middle school students, but an excellent list of books that include letters and letter writing can be found at The Letter Exchange, an organization that connects pen pals through their descriptions or interests.
Happy letter writing!