Description of Unit
The focus of this unit is on letter writing. It is designed for a fourth grade class during September. The activities in the unit include reading, writing, math, science, social studies, technology, and art. Students will read books, learn how to write interesting letters, make their own paper, establish email buddies, and begin a recycling program at school.
1. What can you learn from reading and discussing books?
2. How can you write letters that are informative, interesting, and easy to read?
3. What are some different geographical locations and cultures in North Carolina?
4. Why is it important to recycle, and how can you recycle?
Introducing the Unit
The teacher will introduce the unit by informing the students that they will be doing activities and lessons for a monthlong unit on letter writing. The teacher will review the timeline with the students. Then the teacher will inform students of the essential questions.
To complete the introduction, the teacher will read Mailing May by Michael O. Tunnell. This is a true story set in the early 1900s about a girl who wants to visit her grandmother. Unfortunately, her family could not afford the train fare, so instead they mailed her on the freight train. Following a class discussion, the teacher will introduce the book clubs. The introduction includes the language arts content area, and should last approximately thirty to forty minutes.
The book club activity's purposes are to introduce the unit and demonstrate to students how and why people write letters. This activity includes language arts content area. For the first two weeks, students will work together in groups to discuss a common book they are reading. Students will not read during book club; rather they will discuss the book they are reading. The book clubs will last for two weeks.
On the first day of book clubs, the teacher will introduce the books to the students, which will take approximately fifteen minutes. After the books are introduced, students may select a book to read. The teacher will create book clubs based on book choice. Book clubs should consist of five to six students. In almost each book, the main character frequently communicates via letter writing. The books are:
1. Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary. Leigh Botts wants to be an author like his favorite write, Mr. Henshaw. The reader sees Leigh grow and mature through years of letter writing and journal entries. Accelerated Reader Level 4.9
2. Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown. Stanley is flattened by his bulletin board one night. Since he is as thin as a piece of paper, he is able to have many adventures, such as getting mailed. Accelerated Reader Level 4.0
3. Nim's Island by Wendy Orr. When Nim's father goes on a scientific journey, she's left alone on their tropical island. She finds an email pal, and they will need each other's help to survive when disaster strikes. Accelerated Reader Level 5.8
4. Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan. A widower places an ad in the paper for a wife; Sarah writes back that she might be interested. She moves from Maine to the prairie to live with Caleb, Anna, and their father, in order to see if she would like to be a part of their family. Accelerated Reader Level 3.4
Book clubs will meet daily for 20 to 30 minutes for two weeks to discuss the books. Discussions should include characters, events, settings, author's tones, comprehension, as well as letters the characters write. During each meeting, students will have a specific job. Discussion Directors will ensure that the group stays on task and asks good questions. Passage Pickers will select interesting or insightful pieces of text to read to the group. Word Detectives will define strange or new words. Illustrators will draw a picture for the group to think about and discuss. Mailmen/Mailwomen will focus on how characters write and use letters. The Task Manager will decide how many pages the group should read each night for homework. At the end of the two weeks, each group is responsible for presenting its book to the rest of the class, in a format of the group's choice.
The letter writing activity will start on day two and last two weeks, for about thirty to forty minutes per day. The purpose of this activity is to teach students how to write interesting, descriptive letters and includes the language arts content area. The first lessons will focus on content, the next lessons on style, and the final lessons on mastery. During each lesson, the teacher should present information orally and visually with examples. Students will write each day during this activity, focusing on writing, revising and editing their letters.
For the first lesson, the teacher and students will discuss letters generally and specifically as they relate to the books they are reading. Students should understand why people write letters. Students will brainstorm together letter subjects and begin writing letters.
For the second lesson, students will learn how to include descriptive words in their letters. The teacher will conduct a mini lesson on using descriptive words and work with the class to create interesting, descriptive sentences. Students will then return to the letter they wrote the day before and add descriptive material. Students may also create a new letter during this time. Students may share their new sentences with the class.
For the third lesson, the teacher will conduct a mini lesson on "show, don't tell," thereby helping students create an interesting letter. Instead of merely telling an event, students should strive to create text that allows the reader to see and understand events. The teacher and students will work together as a class to create a "showing" passage. Then students will work individually to write their own "showing" passage, in either a previously written letter or new letter. Students may also create a new letter during this time. Students may share their new sentences with the class.
For the fourth lesson, the teacher will conduct a mini-lesson on proper format for letter writing. The lesson will include where to place dates, greetings, paragraphs, and closings. Students will modify existing letters so that they are correct. Students may also create a new letter during this time.
For the remaining letter writing lessons, students will work towards the goals of writing descriptive, "showing" letters with proper formatting. Student will need to create at least two good letters.
This activity incorporates art and math content areas into the unit. The activity will take place on the Friday of week one and the Monday of week two. On Friday, students will learn about where paper comes from and create their own paper; this will take approximately forty minutes to one hour. This will prepare students for a discussion and activity during week four about saving natural resources. On Monday, students will use their paper for an art project or writing project; this will take approximately thirty minutes.
On Friday, the discussion of where paper comes from should include information about making paper from trees versus making paper from recycled materials. Students should understand that while we can make paper from trees, it is better for the environment to recycle and make new paper with old paper. The discussion need not be long.
After the discussion, students will make their own paper. These directions are taken from Beakman & Jax by Jok Church, and a copy should be made available for each student. The teacher will also need to go over the directions with the students. Students will need: 2 full newspaper pages torn into 2-inch squares, food processor, 2 tablespoons white glue, 2 or 3 cups water, basin with 4 inches water, old panty hose, and coat hangers. These items are optional: insect screen, strainer, food coloring, and dryer lint. The teacher will also need an electric iron. Students can practice measuring as they collect their ingredients.
First, students will need to create a frame. In order to do this, they will need to "undo the coat hanger and use the wire to make a flat square about 6 by 6 inches big. Stretch one leg of the panty hose over it. Take your time; it could snag. If you put tape on the ends of the wire, it will snag less. Make sure it is tight and flat. Tie knots in the hose. Use the other leg for another piece of paper. You will need one frame for every piece of paper you make. You might want to make more than one or two."
Second, students will create pulp. To do this, "Put a handful of the paper and some water into the food processor. Close the food processor and turn it on high. Keep adding paper and water until you have a big gray blob. You may have to add a little more water to keep things moving smoothly. Keep the food processor on until all the paper has disappeared. Then leave it on for 2 whole minutes . . . Put the glue in the sink water and add all of the paper pulp you just made. Mix it really well. Use your hands. Mix up the sink water again and then scoop the frame to the bottom of the sink. Lift it real slow. Count to 20 slowly while you are lifting. Let the water drain out for about a minute. Mix up the sink every time you make a new piece. Try other things like the screen or a strainer. Try adding lots of food coloring, or lint, or leaves, to the food processor. "
Third, the paper will need to dry. Since this activity will be done on a Friday, it will have until Monday to dry completely. To dry the paper, "hang the frames on a clothesline or put them out in the sun. Wait until they are completely dry with no dampness at all. You can then gently peel off the paper. Have a grown-up use the iron - set on the hottest setting - to steam out your paper. You can keep making paper until the pulp is all strained out of the sink."
On Monday, students will be able to either write a letter on their paper or create a piece of artwork on their paper. Students should choose which project they would like to complete.
This activity will take place during Thursday and Friday of week two and will take approximately one hour each day. The purposes of this activity are to allow students to create an art project, practice writing letters with an authentic purpose, and give lower readers a chance to take a leadership role, which includes visual and language arts content areas. Every student will participate, even the students who did not read Flat Stanley during book club. Students who did read this book will be consultants for the other students. This activity will use the Flat Stanley Project web site.
First, the teacher will need to contact a class in order to ensure that the Flat Stanleys will be exchanged. Then students will use the template provided on the web site to create their own Flat Stanley using construction paper, markers, crayons, etc. They will "help" Stanley keep a journal of his time with them and write a letter to the person he will visit. At the end of the second day of this unit, the teacher will mail the Flat Stanleys to the designated class(es). The Flat Stanleys should be mailed back to the original students; when they arrive, students should share Stanley with the rest of the class and describe his journey. Due to the fact that there is no guarantee when all the Stanleys will return, the teacher will need to be flexible with his/her lessons so that all students might have time to share their Stanleys.
This activity will take place during the final two weeks of the unit. The purposes of this activity are to teach students how to use a telecommunication device, write authentic letters, learn about geography and culture, and practice math skills. This unit includes technology, language arts, mathematics and social studies content areas. The first week of this activity will focus on writing mechanics; the second week will focus on an interactive social studies/mathematics bulletin board; this activity will take approximately thirty minutes per day.
Prior to beginning this unit, the teacher will need to register the class on ePals and select one or more classes with which to communicate. The classes should be located in North Carolina, so that the geography and culture of North Carolina can be studied.
During the first day of this activity, the teacher will need to explain to students how to use ePals, Internet safety, and expectations for the activity.
The first week of the activity will focus on letter writing. Students should continue to write, revise, and edit letters. They will also begin to communicate with other students across North Carolina while practicing good letter writing skills. Students should have at least two ePals from different parts of North Carolina. The teacher should monitor students to ensure they are emailing ePals and remaining safe while using the Internet.
Students will continue to write letters to their ePals during the second week of this activity, but they will also be responsible for participating in an interactive bulletin board. A large map of North Carolina will be posted in the classroom. Students will place a pushpin on the map to show where their ePals live. For each ePal, students will need to complete an index card (corresponding to a number on the pushpin) and place the card on the bulletin board. The cards need to contain the following information: both students' names, distance between the student and ePal, two facts about the geography of the ePal's region/town, two facts about the ePal's culture, and one other interesting fact.
This activity will take place during the last week of the unit, and will last approximately 30 minutes to one hour per day. The purpose of this activity is to make students aware of the importance of recycling, create a recycling program, and help students become better citizens. This activity includes a science content area. The activity should begin with a review of the information given during the making paper activity about making paper from new trees versus recycling.
The first lesson should focus on animal habitats and the need to preserve forests. Students will learn why it is important to preserve natural resources like trees.
The next lesson should focus on the benefits of recycling. Students will understand how recycling works, how it preserves natural resources, and how they can recycle.
During the next three remaining lessons, students will create a recycling program to implement in the school. Students will work together or individually to design ways to educate other students and create recycling excitement. Then students will take recycling bins to classrooms and teach those students how and why to recycle. The students and teacher participating in this unit will be responsible for the remainder of the school year for ensuring that items collected are recycled.
Brown, Jeff. Flat Stanley. HarperCollins Children's Books. 1964
Church, Jok. "Make Recycled Paper." Beakman and Jax. Bonus.com.
Retrieved on December 1, 2003 from
Cleary, Barbara. Dear Mr. Henshaw. Morrow,William & Co. 1983
ePals.com. Accessed on December 1, 2003 from www.epals.com.
Hubert, Dale. The Flat Stanley Project. Accessed on December 1, 2003 from
MacLachlan, Patricia. Sarah, Plain and Tall. HarperCollins Children's Books. 1987
Orr, Wendy. Nim's Island. Random House Children's Books. 2001
Renaissance Learning. (n.d.) Retrieved on December 1, 2003, from
Tunnell, Michael O. Mailing May. HarperCollins Publishers. 2000