Most parents do not want their children to argue, but it is a useful skill to develop. One of the best ways to begin this process is to help your child write a letter to the editor to a publication on a topic of interest to the child. The purpose of this article is to provide ideas on how to accomplish this task.
Check newspapers and other publications for examples of letters to the editor on topics that might be of interest to your child. Most editors are looking for well written letters on current topics. Second, identify the parameters the publications have set for these letters, such as word count.
Read and discuss the samples you have collected with your child. Questions to consider with your child are:
What was the point of each letter?
What information supported the writer’s opinions?
Are other points of view presented?
Why or why not does the writer convince others of his opinion?
Does the author convince you of his opinion?
After assessing several letters to the editor on different topics, your child should be ready to write. Help your child brainstorm several topics of personal interest. Select two or three topics and find supportive information for each topic. These topics could be in the form of advocacy. A current topic is which famous American woman (not living) should be placed on the new ten dollar bill where the theme is democracy. Your child might want to research famous American women and write a letter expressing his/her views of which woman should be chosen for the new ten dollar bill. At the end of the letter to the editor, your child can provide the Secretary of Treasurer’s name and address (Jacob J. Lew, Department of the Treasury, 1500 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. 20220) and encourage readers to write him by the end of fall. A decision will be made by the end of the year.
Revision and editing will be the last step in the process. While reading his/her letter, the child should ask the same questions used in paragraph three of this article. After making any revisions, editing begins with each paragraph. Your children should ask: are the sentences in order and is the topic sentence obvious? Next, your child should look at each of the sentences. Ask if there are different types of sentences (simple, compound, or complex)?
Word choice is the next step in editing. Did the child use the best words possible? Remember to teach children about vivacious verbs and awesome adjectives. There is a great series of books written by Ruth Heller to help with understanding the parts of speech in a fun way. The verb book, "Kites Sail High," is outstanding but other books in the series are worth exploring and can be purchased or ordered via interlibrary loan. Last, the child should check to be sure the proper grammar and punctuation was used. Many websites can help with this task. Try Grammar Checker. Spelling can be helped with the Microsoft Word program or online dictionaries. Remind the child to keep the letter short and simple. Once the piece is in final form, have your child read it to you and then you read it to your child. This step is called the “Listening Test.”
Send the letters off to pre-selected editors. One year my students wrote on a specific topic and were quoted by the editor of a national news publication. The students were thrilled that someone thought their points were valid.
Learning the skill of developing an argument teaches the child letter writing in a fun way. It also teaches the child to identify and research the issues. And, it teaches them to “frame” an argument. Learning to identify issues, researching the issues and convincing others of a course of action are important skills for success. Watch out, though. They may eventually use these skills on you as a teenager. But when they do, smile and give them a wink because you did a great job.
Tommy Fairweather is a retired Walton County teacher and educational consultant who lives in Destin.