To prepare for the longer writing tasks at the end of the English Language papers, we all have to get our pupils to write in a variety of forms and in different styles. However when a pupil said to me, “Miss, why am I writing this letter? Nobody will ever read it”, it struck a chord. In this digital age, how often will they have ever sat down with pen and paper, written an envelope, laid out a letter, bought a stamp and awaited a reply?
I decided to explore purpose, audience and form through letter writing but with a point. To write letters that WOULD be read and may even elicit a personal or international response. I did this with the help of www.fanmail.biz and Amnesty International.
Every week I get the Amnesty International letter writing alert email which covers human rights abuses worldwide. Last week I read about Ali Özdemir, a 14 year old Syrian national, who was shot in the head on the night of May 18, 2014, when trying to cross the Turkish border together with nine other Syrian refugees. He was left blind and the incident has never been investigated. The email told us that Ali is feeling very isolated and depressed and would welcome letters from children his own age. It also said that we should ask the Turkish government to find out what happened and bring the attackers to justice.
The class were very interested in this and wrote both formal letters to the Turkish government and informal letters to Ali asking how he was and telling him about themselves. We are keeping an eye on the news for updates!
On a much lighter note we also wrote letters to celebrities. Firstly I asked them to research their favourite actor, sportsman, musician or celebrity. Then they wrote a formal letter using persuasive writing techniques telling the personality why they chose them, how they have been an inspiration to them and asking for a signed photograph. They wrote the envelopes, stuck on the stamp (in the correct place) and waited. A week later the first usually very nonchalant student was presented with an envelope addressed to him that literally sent him sprinting across the playground to show his friends. The television presenter Mike Brady (Wheeler Dealers) had sent a lovely letter wishing him the best with his studies and including a signed photograph. To date we've had letters and replies from Jeremy Kyle, Paul O'Grady, Ed Sheeran, Daniel Craig, Lukaku, many of the players from Bristol City FC and Manchester United, Hollyoaks and Casualty actors and Robbie Williams.
I also wrote a letter myself. Picture included. I don't normally skip into the staffroom shouting “Wahoooooooo!” but I did that day.
Becky Hewlitt is an English & History teacher in Somerset.