LESSON

Letters to the Editor

Students identify parts of arguments – using the ARE framework – by reading and evaluating letters to the editor. They identify weaknesses and strengths of letters, suggesting improvements to arguments used within the letters.
Grade Level

Materials

  • Letter to the editor, clipped from newspapers, taken from the Internet or written by the instructor. With students working in groups of two to three, the whole class can work with one letter.
  • “Dear Editor...” worksheet for all students.
  • Overhead transparency copy of the letter to facilitate group discussion.
  • OPTIONAL: One or more copies of the local daily newspaper for students to look at in groups.

 

Procedure

  • Begin the exercise by reviewing ARE argument construction with the class.
  • Introduce the class to the idea of writing letters to the editor. Most students are not familiar with the layout of print newspapers, so this is an opportunity to teach them the parts of a newspaper – editorials offering the opinions of the newspaper’s own editorial board; guest editorials and opinion pieces by people or organizations in the larger community; and letters to the editor from individuals.
  • Discuss with the class the reasons why people might be motivated to write a letter to the editor. Discuss what might make a letter’s arguments effective or weak.
  • Divide the students into groups of two or three, if they will be working in groups.
  • Give each student a copy of the letter to the editor they will be analyzing, and a copy of the “Dear Editor...” worksheet.
  • Explain to students that they will be trying, as best they can, to fill out the worksheet and identify all the parts of the author’s argument.
  • Monitor student work on the assignment. Depending on the level of student proficiency and the complexity of the letter, this should take approximately 20-30 minutes.
  • Lead a discussion on the letter, using an overhead transparency to underline parts of the letter that fulfill the ARE components of the author’s argument(s).
  • Discuss possible improvements to the letter, focusing on missing parts of the author’s argument.

 

Optional Follow-on Activities

  • Assign students to write a “better version” of the letter they analyzed.
  • For the main activity, two letters can be used. In this version, each group works first on letter A and then swaps their analysis with a group working on letter B. This approach takes more time but allows for integration of peer editing into the exercise as well as comparison between the two letters.
  • Once students have learned refutation, they can work separately or in groups to research and write responses to letters to the editor. These can be presented to the class, shared for peer editing, and/or evaluated for a writing grade based, in part, on use of ARE and Four-Step Refutation techniques.
  • To practice constructing arguments of their own, students can be assigned (working separately or in groups) to write letters to the editor of their local newspaper. These can be on topics of their choosing, in response to a current event, or in response to an assigned recent reading from the newspaper.
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