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Letter-writing assignment teaches students how to get results

In a world of e-mails and text messages, writing letters may seem to be a lost art.

But Dodge Middle School language teacher Brianna Fleetham knows there is power behind words, and now her seventh grade students know that, as well.

At the beginning of the school year, Fleetham gave her students a pretty straightforward assignment: write a letter that makes a difference.

Her requirements were simple: choose a subject that is important to you, and find an appropriate audience to write to.

And so they did. Some wrote letters to the editor and submitted them to the Farmington Independent. Some wrote letters to their school principals or the city of Farmington. And a few even wrote to the President of the United States.

"I didn't want to limit them," Fleetham said. "I didn't want to make them feel like they had to keep it to something in school only, so I told them to write about whatever was important to them."

Fleetham got the idea from another teacher during a workshop last year. The assignment's intent was to show students their opinions can make a difference, and to teach them how to share those opinions in a productive, professional way.

Initially, students had two weeks to choose their topic and audience, and then write the letters. They turned the letters in to Fleetham, who went through each and gave each student feedback on his or her letter. The students then had time to make the revisions. Once all letters were in, Fleetham sent them out.

The responses have been trickling in, and Fleetham says her students are pretty excited. Besides the letters to the editor that were printed in the Independent, several response letters have come in. One student chose to write to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources about Lake Pepin, and the DNR responded.

"The kids are pretty excited. Every time something comes in, they want to know who got the response," Fleetham said. "I had one student who wrote about gum. We haven't heard back from the gum company yet. We'll see if we get a response back from that."

In this technological society, kids are all too familiar with sending e-mails, and texting seems to have its own vocabulary that teens are well versed in but that is sometimes confusing to adults. Understanding that, Fleetham had to review the basics of letter writing with her students. They looked at a formal business letter and talked about the format. But the biggest lesson came when the responses started coming in.

"They learned that your words have power. Your words can make a difference. It's fun for them to see things actually happening," Fleetham said.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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