My Year 11 English GCSE class have recently been working on writing a letter to our local newspaper, The Doncaster Free Press. We are preparing for the Unit 1 exam in January, and spent much of the first half-term working on the skills needed to analyse non-literary texts for Section A of the exam. As part of this we have spent some time looking at a range of language techniques that writers use for different purposes such as to persuade and describe effectively, using, among other resources, this guide published by the exam board (AQA). Section B of the exam requires students to produce their own writing, and I emphasised that the techniques we were learning to recognise and comment on for section A, would also be useful in their own writing for section B. However, when we came to do our first section B practice, the task from the specimen paper we had been using seemed rather artificial, and the students found it difficult to ‘find their voice’ to produce an effective piece of writing.
As I was reflecting on how to tackle this section, I came across this excellent blog post from a teacher in York. I briefly told my class about it, and we agreed that we too would aim for a ‘culture of excellence’, one in which the ‘we can’t do this because we’re duggies’ attitude that one of the class had expressed the previous week would not be acceptable! I told them that they too would be writing letters to our local newspaper, and they would not be finished until they were good enough send, because we would be sending them. We borrowed the first task from the ‘Hunting English’ blog, adapted to our local newspaper: Write a letter to the Doncaster Free Press arguing for or against the view that the media promotes the wrong role models for teenagers. After some discussion, some of the students said they would like to write about the role of social media, as this was an important issue to them at the moment, so I said that as this was to be a real letter it would indeed be best for them to choose a topic that really mattered to them.
We set to work looking at examples of letters from the most recent edition of the Doncaster Free Press, and came up with a list of features that a good letter should ideally contain. I summarised the features they identified in the following list:
- The letter should have some kind of local connection.
- It should ideally refer to something mentioned previously by letter writer, or in a recent article in the paper.
- It should be approximately 5-7 paragraphs long.
- The first paragraph should clearly introduce the main topic of the letter.
- The first paragraph should also make clear your opinion or point of view on that topic.
- The middle paragraphs should develop your argument using a range of persuausive techniques
- You should also, if possible, include some action points about what you think should be done about the issue you are writing about.
- Your final paragraph should sum up your argument.
The students have been using Google Documents to draft their work, and you can see where they have got to in the embedded documents below. For various reasons the students are at different stages of the drafting process, and at the time of writing, I don’t think any of them are are quite ready to be sent. Nevertheless, nearly all of them have at least begun to make good progress at addressing some of the key problems that often crop up in their writing, such as accurate punctuation, spelling and paragraphing, as well as trying to write a well structured letter that expresses their point of view about a subject they feel strongly about.
If anybody has any constructive comments, I’m sure the students would be happy to read them to help them improve their letters still further before we send them to the Free Press.