A lesson plan on how to write good letters to the editor

By Mike Fricano, Editor

Grades: 6-12
Subjects: Language arts, social studies, life skills

Overview of lesson plan:
Students will learn to write a letter to the editor that would be good enough to be considered for publication.
Suggested time allowance: 45 min.-1 hr.

Students will learn to write clear and concise letters that offer their opinions on articles they read in L.A. Youth or that contain insightful thoughts about issues on their minds or in their lives.

Resources and materials:
— pens, paper
— copies of L.A. Youth September 2005 issue (one per student)
— blackboard or whiteboard

Many teens think of writing as an unpleasant 500-word homework assignment about a book they were forced to read in English class. But what if the assignment was shorter and the teen could see her or his name in print afterward? A letter to the editor to a newspaper or magazine is a great way to turn writing from a dreary chore into an opportunity to share a writer’s views with hundreds or even thousands of people.

Like many newspapers and magazines, L.A. Youth tries to include as many different voices as possible from the communities it serves. Our more than 80 staff writers come from dozens of schools throughout the county, but that’s still just a small percentage of the 400,000 readers, who attend more than 1,000 schools in Los Angeles County. Consequently, some parts of our readership area are not well-represented in our pages. One way we try to include more perspectives in the paper is through our letters to the editor, which are on page three in this issue.

In this lesson plan, students will learn how to write effective letters to the editor. The letters, if submitted to L.A. Youth, will be considered for publication in the paper or on our Web site. The key to writing a good letter is to do more than simply summarize the story. The person writing the letter should include her or his opinion about the story, share a story of a similar experience to the author’s or offer advice to the author.

1. Reading. Have the students read a story, any story of their choice, in the September issue of L.A. Youth.

2. Analysis. After they’re done reading, have the students take out a pen and paper for notes and write down what they think the main idea of the story was. They should also write down whether they thought the story was good or bad and their reasons for their opinions. On page three, they can read two letters to the editor that criticize L.A. Youth for not including more African-American perspectives in stories about the brawls between Latinos and blacks at Jefferson High School that happened last spring.

Additionally, if the story is an opinion piece, like Eden’s story about global poverty on page 22, have the students write down whether they agreed with the author’s position and why or why not. Is there information that they think the writer forgot to include? Were they unconvinced by Eden’s arguments, if so why?

If the story was about a student’s experience, like a teen’s story about Web sites devoted to eating disorders, have the students write down what parts of the story they found most interesting or moving and why. Have them also write down which parts, if any, they personally related to. A story like this may prompt the students to want to offer advice to the writer or share their own stories of similar experiences. It might help to imagine they’re actually speaking to the teen who wrote the article. What would they want to tell him or her?

3. Discussion. Have the students share which stories they read and what they thought of those stories, using the notes the students have written. Did they agree with the authors’ arguments? Did they find the articles interesting or boring? Why? Have they had similar experiences or do they know someone who has?

Write down what the students have to say on the blackboard.

4. Writing. This should take about 10-15 minutes. Using what was written on the board as guidelines, have the students write one-to-three paragraph letters to the editor for possible publication in the October issue of L.A. Youth. Remind them that letters should do more than just summarize the story they read. The letters should contain opinions on whether they liked the story, relate similar experiences or offer advice. Letters can praise or criticize, but the writer must back up points with convincing, detailed arguments.

Extension exercise:
Have your class send their letters to L.A. Youth for possible publication in the October 2005 issue. The deadline to appear in the paper is Sept. 30, 2005. Send them to:

L.A. Youth
5967 W. Third St., Ste. 301
Los Angeles CA 90036
E-mail: Editor@layouth.com