Teachers for Teachers | Slice of Life: Can It Be Fun and Rigorous?
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Slice of Life: Can It Be Fun and Rigorous?


Do you think it counts?

What do you mean?

If they write a letter to someone for Valentines Day, is that opinion writing?

What are your goals for the unit? What are you hoping to teach them about this genre of writing in kindergarten?

Well, they are supposed to learn that writers have big ideas or strong feelings and use writing to convince others to agree with them.

So you are going to have 5 year olds choose a person they have a strong feeling or big idea about and write this person a letter to tell them their thoughts and feelings. What about that wouldn’t count?




It just seems too fun to count. 

The standards clearly tell us what we need to teach our students, but they do not teach us how we must go about bringing this learning to life.

The CCSS made an explicit premise that implementation decisions be left in the hands of teachers or school leaders. The standards define what all students should know and be able to do, not how teachers should teach.”   -CCSS, 2010

kIf a kindergarten student can think of an important person in his life and write a letter telling that person how he feels and why he feels that way it seems to completely fulfill the standards. Creating a Valentine for someone has purpose, meaning and an authentic audience. Just because it is also fun should not deem it unworthy!

Curriculum needs to be engaging. Our students need to understand why they are learning the standards and how these will help them as readers, writers and humans. Writing a Valentine is fun. Is it wrong to send a message that learning is fun? If something ties in nicely with our world does that make it less rigorous?

I agree that we cannot base all of our teaching on holidays and that we need to have a purpose for the lessons we are teaching. On the other hand, we need to look for ways to connect the standards to our students developmentally and to the world around them. Valentines Day is fun. The ability to choose a person and write a letter expressing how you feel about them or your big idea about them is both fun and rigorous.

Writing a letter helps our young students construct a deep understanding of audience. When you have a specific person in mind, your writing becomes more specific. It is easier to teach crafts like word choice, mini-stories and talking to your audience. Letters allow you to picture the exact person you are writing to so your voice is clear and convincing. Anna Gratz Cockerille has been using the format of letters for Slice of Life this month. Every day I am amazed at how effective this structure is for her writing. She is able to impact an entire audience of readers through a letter written to a specific person or group. The specificity of the audience brings her writing to life and allows a broader audience to still connect to her big idea.

I responded to Anna and shared how powerful I think this structure has been for her writing. I reflected that I have tried to use it, but right now some of my topics feel too raw for the structure. I realize as I try to write my posts as a letter the feelings become too intense. Writing with the exact audience in mind truly pushes you to think about and feel your big idea or strong feeling. The impact on both the writer and the reader is connected. Identifying the audience through a letter makes one’s words come to life in a special way. The writer can see, hear and feel the impact of her opinion with the audience. This to me seems perfect for young writers who are trying to construct an understanding of abstract concepts like audience and purpose.

Through writing letters these writers learned that the purpose of writing is to get your ideas and feelings out into the world. They learned that writing is to be shared with an audience. They learned that opinion writing is used to impact others with your ideas and feelings. What better way to do this than by telling someone in your life what he or she means to you or how he or she has impacted you?

I think it meets and exceeds the standards – of both writing and life. What do you think?


Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnnaBeth, Kathleen, and Deb for this space for us to share our stories each day in March.  Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts and consider joining this community.

  • Avatar
    Melanie Meehan
    Posted at 11:23h, 21 March Reply

    I love your post, and I will have to go read some of Anna’s work. I’ve been nudging third grade teachers to have kids write fan letters in their opinion writing letter. Writing a letter to Stephen Curry got one little boy to write at least one piece…more to come…I had very similar conversations with teachers!

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    Deirdre Bergeron
    Posted at 11:39h, 21 March Reply

    I teach letter writing to 1st Graders with writing to their K teachers. That connection is so strong and the responses are so quick that they are always rewarded. I use a specific scaffolded writing frame and then shrink it to be used in holiday and thank you and congrats cards once they know how to use it. They LOVE writing to family, friends, each other, and staff members.

    I don’t know about fun, but I do know CC work can be both rigorous AND motivating!

  • Avatar
    Posted at 12:43h, 21 March Reply

    Great post! I never stopped to think about all the ways letter writing can help young writers understand more about writing in general. And yes, I agree that learning can be fun, motivating, rigorous, and effective all at the same time.

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    Christine Baldiga
    Posted at 12:54h, 21 March Reply

    Clare, I heard a similar message at Saturdays reunion. Many of our teachers have become so stuck on the lessons from various “books” that they don’t stop to think about the standard or the purpose behind the lesson. This post makes me sad in a way because we have placed such a furor around teaching to the standards or to a program with fidelity that we forget about the joy! And I firmly believe that if our classrooms do not have joy, then the teaching is lost. Your post reminds me to work harder to spread that message.

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    Brian Rozinsky
    Posted at 14:13h, 21 March Reply

    I’m with you, Clare. Many learning paths can demonstrate the same literacy standard, so why not favor the more engaging routes or offer writers choices for the routes they may travel?

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    Anna Cockerille
    Posted at 15:06h, 21 March Reply

    Wow! It has been so wonderful connecting with you through this challenge, Clare. This is another wonderful post. You are so right about the intensity of the letter genre, and the ways in which letter writing encourages specificity and attention to audience. Because I was able to choose a format for my Slices, it makes me think more about the power of independent writing projects and giving students the opportunity to choose a format for persuasive writing.

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    Posted at 16:45h, 21 March Reply

    YES! YES! YES! Learning does not have to feel like drudgery to be ‘work’. I think our kids are more engaged and purposeful when their work has meaning and a personal connection. I too, have also been enjoying Anna Cockerille’s letters this month for #SOLC. Having a consistent format must be so freeing to be able to focus on the message and the recipient. When I see the variety of slices this month and recognize many are both FUN and RIGOROUS, it confirms what you are saying so clearly!

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    Linda Baie
    Posted at 21:33h, 21 March Reply

    Often at the early ages, it seems that children don’t believe their opinions matter. They go through the motions of practicing writing, reading words, learning to paint and/or draw, but it isn’t always with a purpose. Making someone happy through telling them the reasons you like or love them will support later opinion writing that asks for reasons. It’s a beginning to experiencing someone listening, and, joy of joy, enjoying their words. Perhaps this is a first time they realize that their words can have an impact? And you are right, letters are narrow and specific, just like letters to the editor!

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    lynne dorfman
    Posted at 21:51h, 21 March Reply

    I love the idea of using letter writing at many grade levels and for many purposes. I had fourth and fifth graders write hero essays to one of their everyday heroes, write a letter of introduction, and I provided envelopes and stamps for them to mail to their heroes. Guess what? Many students received a letter in the mail, a joyful experience.

    I have not read Anna’s posts, but I will look for them. And why does learning have to be dull and tedious? You are right, Clare. It should be engaging and joyful! CCSS do NOT tell us how to meet
    the standards. Let’s be imagineers – imagining the possibilities for our students!

  • Avatar
    Posted at 00:08h, 22 March Reply

    I’ve been loving Anna’s letters – and you are right, they have a writing scope that makes this a worthy genre for our kids to work with. Plus, they are so much fun to read.

    • Avatar
      Anna Cockerille
      Posted at 18:14h, 22 March Reply

      Thank you Tara!!!

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    Pam Stegink
    Posted at 00:58h, 22 March Reply

    I agree – letter writing helps so much with audience and purpose. I have my kids write back and forth with their families each week. They talk about all the things they are doing in school including books they are reading. They love it and it gets the job done.

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