I have been excited about this lesson for WEEEEEEKS now. I knew from the beginning of the year that I would be working towards this, but I knew I needed the students to be really invested before I could make it happen. AND THEY WERE! AND I DID!
After reading “Thank You, Ma’am,” I talked to the students about how at the end of the story, Roger seems to feel unsatisfied with how he left Ms. Luella Bates Washington Jones. He barely said, “thank you,” and then he never saw her again! We talked about how it’s a big city, so it makes sense he might not see her, but the students were still a little frustrated with the ending (just like Roger felt!).
I told them to take out their notebooks and make a T chart. On the left hand side they wrote “Who I would like to thank” and on the right hand side, they wrote “because.” I had them come up with a list of at least five names and the first one they wrote down had to be someone at school. In the because column, we jotted down a few quick ideas about why they would want to thank that person.
The next day, we developed some ideas about how to write a thank you note. We thought about what we’d want to include and how to make it meaningful. Next, I showed students what they would be writing on.
Here’s the thing: it’s great to write a thank you note, and it’s nice to think about sending it out, but too often, students are writing to inauthentic audiences about things that don’t really matter to them. I wanted them to be excited about their writing and I wanted them to take it seriously. I brought in thank you cards that I had purchased over the years and hadn’t really used (I got most of them from the dollar section at Target, a.k.a. the teacher supply section of Target) and I printed out some they could decorate from this site. We were writing notes that we were going to hand deliver, so they needed to be special.
The student who is the most reluctant in that group, looked at the options, looked at me, and back at the notes.
“Did you buy these, Miss Bolte?”
“Well, I actually had most of them. I like to keep thank you notes so I can write them whenever I get the idea.”
“So you write thank you notes, too?”
“Yes! All the time! I love writing thank you notes because I get to tell someone something kind, which I hope makes their day a little brighter and I feel really good when I can make someone else feel good.”
He stared back at the notes and I could see his brain working out which one he was going to pick. I could see him thinking about how special this was. He got it in that moment. This wasn’t just an activity to pass the time or practice writing and it wasn’t something that wouldn’t go anywhere after today. He picked out a card for the teacher to whom he would be writing.
“What do you think about this one?”
“I think Ms. D will really appreciate that card! She likes patterns like that.”
He smiled and carefully tucked the card into his folder so that he could use it when he was ready for his final copy.
The students were so excited to write these thank you notes and pass them out. We had a celebration day when everyone was done and walked through the school dropping them off. I posted the pictures I took that day at the entrance to my classroom so that students and visitors could see the work we were doing. The students who finished their cards early started writing their next notes right away and choosing cards for their next recipient. They’ve asked each day, “When do we get to write thank you notes again?” I’m planning to set aside time each week (the day that I’m progress monitoring) so that they can work on this project. I will go with students to hand deliver the notes in house and take pictures to add onto the wall for the year. I’m excited!