Newspaper readers age, but letter writers get younger all the time

My 9-year-old daughter finally brought home a class assignment that’s right in her dad’s wheelhouse. Her fourth-grade language arts teacher instructed her to write a letter to the editor.

So I was all set to give her a few pointers, but as it turned out I didn’t have to teach her a thing. She peeled off a letter of about 150 words or so that successfully argued why kids shouldn’t watch too much television. It was to the point, and it contained several supporting paragraphs that bolstered her argument. No spelling errors, either.

What impressed me the most, though, was that she probably didn’t believe a word of it. Sometimes the best persuasive writers can successfully argue a viewpoint they don’t even agree with. That’s my sweetie!

Not too long after that, I received a letter at the office from Nancy Pund. She’s a fifth-grade teacher at Lincoln County Elementary School, and she gave some of her pupils the same assignment my daughter got: Write a letter to the editor. The difference was that they actually mailed them. All the letters were very charming.

 

OFTEN THE NEWSPAPER business hears about how its readership is getting older and grayer. It’s fun to see letter writers getting younger.

And it’s interesting to see what’s preying on the minds of grade-schoolers. One young writer spoke out against bullying. Another argued that accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s rights aren’t being violated. Still another wrote about the recent parking-fee flap at Georgia Regents University.

Ms. Pund also asked me to give her letter writers some feedback.

To Ms. Pund’s Fifth-Graders:

Thank you for sending your letters to the editor to The Augusta Chronicle. I hope you enjoyed writing your letters as much as I enjoyed reading them.

Everyone has an opinion about something. But not everyone does a good job sharing his or her opinion with someone else. Learning how to write a good letter to the editor is excellent practice in learning how to best share your thoughts as you grow up.

Letters to the editor have been around for a long time. The earliest newspapers often printed letters from all over the world, from people who wanted to tell readers what was going on in far-off places. People also used letters to the editor to share ideas with large numbers of readers about current events or concerns. That’s a main reason why people still write those letters today.

 

HOW SHOULD YOU write a good letter to the editor?

First, find an idea or an issue you feel strongly about. It could be about something going on in the news, or it could be an idea you have to make your community better. Try to summarize your opinion on that idea in one sentence. Then pick your best reasons that support what you believe.

Your letter doesn’t have to be long. All the letters you students sent were short, and that’s OK. Perhaps the most famous letter to the editor was only 37 words long. It was written in 1897 by an 8-year-old girl asking the editor of The (New York) Sun about Santa Claus. The editor’s response – often titled “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” – is possibly the most reprinted editorial ever.

Also, share your thoughts in a respectful tone. Not all letter writers do that well. At The Chronicle, we sometimes receive letters from people who write things like, “I dare you to print this letter!” or “You’re scared to print my letter!” That isn’t very persuasive language or very polite – but as fifth-graders I’m sure you already know that.

The best letters to the editor get right to the point. The grammar and spelling are correct. The ideas can be clearly understood. The thoughts are well-organized. The purpose is clear.

The best letters to the editor offer a glimpse of what’s stirring in your souls.

Kids, I really enjoyed reading your first letters to the editor. I’m sure they won’t be your last.

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