It’s Elementary! Writing letters to the next president in the primary grades
You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. When I was the counselor at a small, elementary school in the Port Richmond neighborhood of Philadelphia, this proverb was part of a larger lesson in Teacher Ben’s class. He was working with his English language learners to prepare them to visit our local council member at City Hall.
Now retired, when I asked Ben to recall a little about this lesson in civic engagement from the past and told him I was curating a collection of resources about writing to the next president for elementary students, he replied, “I like the idea of writing to the next president. I’d steal that if I was teaching now!” With the 2016 election season upon us, these times beg us to create moments for young children to get to know the candidates and to give students the tools they need to shine a light on issues that they want the next president to remember.
This collection of resources gives you myriad opportunities to “steal” ideas for writing letters to the next president with elementary students. Explore resources geared towards you and your young change makers from Scholastic, Mikva Project, Mozilla, Kentucky Writing Project, young students in Des Moines, @LakesideMrT at the #2NextPrez hashtag on Twitter, and others. As the school year begins, let this collection inspire you to both write letters with your young students AND find ways to share their letters with others. Whether it is with honey or vinegar, children are natural fly catchers. Let’s give them space and tools to share that knack with the next president of the United States, and as many voters as we can find in our own communities.
If I Were President:
Teaching Social Justice in the Primary Classroom
National Association for the Education of Young Children
Check this resource out from NAEYC’s Voices of Practitioners: Teacher Research in Early Childhood Education. Elizabeth Goss, a first and second grade teacher, reflects on her practitioner research around social justice and civic engagement. Her students created posters with drawings of themselves taking action as president of the United States. Here is one example:
Reflection question: How could you build on Goss’ work to create a plan to make a poster letter to the next president with your class?
#DearNextPresident @ Fusion
Students in the Oakridge neighborhood, Des Moines, Iowa, share their Dear Next President letter. Video letters, made by one student or collaboratively, are rich in student voice, enlivened by gestures of hope, and offer the next president a wide range of dreams for the future!
Reflection Question: How does this inspire you to create a plan for writing letters to the next president with your elementary aged students?
Who are the candidates in the election? How are kids involved in this election season? Kid reporters! Polls! And more… This website might give your class some ideas for how to start their letters to the next president. What questions would you ask the next president? What suggestions do you have for them?
Reflection question: What are some other resources you’ve found for teaching young children about Election 2016?
What is Project Soapbox? A public speaking competition that invites young people to speak out on issues that affect them and their communities. Soapbox speeches are two-minutes long. What is a Soapbox Speech?
A Soapbox Speech is about an issue that the student identifies, not an assigned topic.
- It includes relevant research and evidence on the issue.
- It addresses a specific audience
- It includes a call to action.
Reflection question: Speeches. Interviews. Posters. Videos. Letters to the next president take many forms.
What is your role as you help students decide what kind of letter they should write?
Kentucky Writing Project
What qualities do we want in our new president? Jean Wolph, the director of the Louisville Writing Project, offers an opinion writing mini-unit on qualities of the next president. It culminates in students making a poster or writing a letter to a voter they know, asking them to consider specific presidential qualities when making a choice. Wolph notes that the mini-unit is developed for K-1; appropriate for 2-3 with more independence in reading texts or with replacement by texts that are grade-level appropriate. It is also adaptable for MS/HS.
Reflection question: In this resource, Wolph offers a framework for students to make a claim and listen to others’ claims.
What other ways do you provide support for students to develop opinions and listen to each other?
Mozilla Web Literacy
Got code? Chad Sansing offers this Thimble letter template for students to remix to the next president. The template encourages students to share about who they are and what their hopes are for the next four years. (Note: click on tutorial to get some guidance for how to edit the HTML mark-up here. Also see Erase All Kittens for a fun game tutorial you can also start with: Erase All Kittens (game) and Web literacy teaching activities for related ideas.)
Reflection question: How can younger children use their coding skills for civic engagement?
The New York Times and other media
As you read the news, where do you see young people in the story? This video highlights a question from an 11 year old who asks Republican VP nominee Mike Pence a question.
Here are a few other media based resources:
- The Race Is On – From PBS, a guide for parents of young children to talk about the election
- What are kids learning from this presidential election? – From NPR, an article about what kids pick up from language and tone during the campaign. Features those Kid Reporters from Scholastic!
Reflection Question: There are many stories in the news about how policy affects young children.
How can we share those stories with our young children?
Use Twitter to find out what other teachers are doing with their students. Here, Dan Thompson (@LakesideMrT) suggests writing interviews in class to discover what his students believe the U.S. needs right now. Then, they would stage the interviews to share their opinions with each other and with others.
Reflection Question: What are some ways you might share your students’ letters to the next president?
Would you stage a live event? Send letters off to your local paper? Create a group on Edmodo?
Share your ideas and plans for writing letters to the next president with your elementary aged students.
What are some ways you will share the letters in your community and with the next president?
Tweet with the hashtag #2NextPrez, or email [email protected]!
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