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Teaching Multicultural Literature : A Workshop for the Middle Grades
Workshop 1 Workshop 2 Workshop 3 Workshop 4 Workshop 5 Workshop 6 Workshop 7 Workshop 8
Workshop 7: Social Justice and Action - Alma Flor Ada, Pam Munoz, and Paul Yee
Overview
Authors and Literary Works
Video Summary
Teaching Strategies
Debate
Read-Aloud
Writing Letters for Social Action
Commentary
Student Work
Resources
Interactive Workbook -- Explore two poems using strategies from these workshops. Go.
Channel-Talk -- Share your views on the discussion board. Go.


Teaching Strategies
Writing Letters for Social Action

Description

Students craft persuasive letters to real audiences, outlining problems and proposing solutions. In Laura Alvarez's bilingual class, the students research and write letters about problems that immigrants face: issues that directly affect them, their families, and their communities. As the students research and write these letters, they move from analysis to action and learn basic rhetorical strategies for incorporating evidence into a written argument. They also begin to understand the power of their own voices and their roles as active citizens by sending these letters to people in their community, policy makers, the media, or any person or organization they wish to address.

Writing Letters for Social Action in Laura Alvarez's Classroom

Laura Alvarez begins the class by having her students make an emotional and personal connection to Alma Flor Ada's book My Name Is María Isabel. She asks them to consider the many challenges immigrants face. The students then compare the characters' experiences across several texts. Alvarez also asks the students to connect what they have read with the real world.


First, Alvarez asks the students to interview family members who immigrated to the United States about their expectations for and experiences of immigration. Students can also interview people from their community or school (this might include a classmate's relative). In the course of the unit, Alvarez also introduces her students to author Alma Flor Ada, who explains: "Our need to organize, to write letters, to work for better conditions is never going to end. You have a voice; you can make the world a better place." The students choose, research, and debate issues related to immigration. At the end of the unit, they write letters to policy makers and the media about these issues. Alvarez asks the students to write a rough draft, edit the letter against a checklist, and meet with her for a personal writer's conference.

In Alvarez's classroom, interviewing, researching, debating, questioning author Alma Flor Ada, and, ultimately, writing letters are all part of a seamless whole. These activities transcend the classroom by addressing a real audience for a real reason; they also show the students that their concerns are important and that their voices can effect change. (See Student Work.)

Tips and Variations for Writing Letters for Social Action

  • Teachers should carefully consider what problems the class might address. They may ask themselves:

    • Who is in the position to address the problems the students have identified?

    • What form of social action would make the most sense for the level of the class, the problems they are studying, and the audience that is targeted?

  • Teachers might also consider having the students write petitions, stage a protest, hold a town hall meeting, create posters, or design an advertising campaign.

Assessment of Writing Letters for Social Action

After writing letters for social action, a class should consider their effectiveness. The teacher might ask:

  • How did our letter-writing connect to what we're reading and studying?

  • What have you learned about reading, writing, and community action?

  • How did your own ideas and views on the issue develop through the letter-writing process?

  • What do you hope will happen as a result of our letters?

  • What are the next steps?

  • What would you do differently next time? Why?

Benefits of Writing Letters for Social Action


  • When writing for a real purpose and audience, students look more carefully at their language choices and develop ownership and pride in their work.

  • Students develop a sense of empowerment because their views and voices make a difference in their communities.

  • Taking social action helps students connect what they are studying in school with their world.

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