This week in English we have been exploring the difference between formal and informal language through the medium of letter writing. Initially many of my students were unfamiliar with the concept but as the week progressed they showed that they could apply the rules consistently when needed. Having finished our planned work by the end of the lesson Thursday I thought Friday presented an excellent opportunity to practice the skill using a different inspiration. After a long deliberation I chose the book Princeless, it’s twist on the classic princess tales that would offer a golden opportunity for the main character to write a letter.
In the book Adrienne has been locked in a tower by her father so she can be saved. She decides to break out and go on a mission to free her sisters before the same imprisonment can be placed upon them. After sneaking into her castle she finds her brother who relays the bad news that her sister Appalonia has already been locked away with the meanest guardian in the land protecting her. Adrienne sets off in a bid to free her and ends up in a village where she meets her new companion Bedelia. This part of the story was read to the children who took notes about key character names and events. After note taking the task was laid out, they would have to write a letter from Adrienne to her brother Devin explaining how she was faring in her quest to save their sister. We worked together to identify possible things that may have happened after she left the castle and met Bedelia.
With ideas gathered and expectations established the class then got on with writing a formal letter to Devin from the perspective of Adrienne. At first they struggled to start off the letter, many found it hard to comprehend how I had read them the story but left them in charge of filling in what happens between leaving and saving her sister. Eventually after a little prompting and a few examples being shared they started to let their imaginations loose and started creating events from this journey. Lots of them described the scenery they had passed or made reference to their new companion Bedelia and how she was helping. Some mentioned the dragon Sparky, the supplies they had gathered or even how far they were from finding Appalonia. Most importantly the majority stuck to the rules of writing a formal letter.
Contractions were abandoned, paragraphs were used in a more structured manner and vocabulary choices started to become more adventurous. I had banned certain words earlier in the week including ‘alright’, ‘ok’, ‘bad’ etc. which caused trouble for some at first but eventually they started to explore their own vocabularies or use a thesaurus to help them improve the overall tone of their work. Words such as ‘ashamed’, ‘informed’, ‘accompanied’ and ‘menace’ started to make their way into more pupils work and today the variety of vocabulary was the best it had been all week. Below are some of the best sentences created or some are examples from writers who often struggle but excelled during the task:
‘After leaving we finally came across a small village. I told Sparky (the dragon) to hide behind a few trees because I do not think civilians react well to dragons.’
‘I am informing you that I am safe. Since you last saw me at the castle a lot has changed.’
‘We are starting out tomorrow beware I might not make it back. Do not be upset if I do not come back but make me a promise. If I do not come home go and save our sister.’
‘I have great doubt that I will succeed brother but I will never stop fighting.’
‘It is getting dark and I am losing sight so I must say my goodbyes and if I do not make it tell my family I love them. It may not go well.’
A lot of children ended their letter with a warning about their potential fate which showed a good understanding of events that were about to occur. It also gave them a chance to discuss their family relationship at the end of the letter whereas the rest had been recounting the journey and trials ahead. Initially I was skeptical about the task but as we had achieved the goals for the week it seemed a worthy risk. On reflection it worked respectably well but having to read a comic to the class because you only have one copy did make the explanation process problematic at times. Ideally in future I would do something similar using either one page that covered enough content or use a comic that I had multiple copies of so the children could follow along more easily.