Writing a Letter to the Secretary of Education: An Expository Writing Lesson

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The key to teaching expository writing is to pick a topic that your students will be interested in. This doesn’t mean you have to pick a topic like sports or t.v. shows; it just means that you have to find some way to reach them. In this lesson plan, you can do just that.

Make your students aware of the issues that affect them and teach them how to be better writers all in one lesson plan. For this lesson, your students will read an article on CNN.com about US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and his plans for the future of American education. Once they’re good and fired up about his plans, you can help them learn how to channel their feelings and write a constructive expository letter about it. They will have to consider their audience and channel their writing to meet that audience’s point of view while also expressing their own.

Read the Article

Students will read the article referenced in the introduction (or any other article or speech about/by Secretary Duncan, but then you’ll have to make up the rest of this on your own). The writer of this article explains that Secretary Duncan has some big new ideas for American education. Among these ideas are the need for year-round schooling, a call to institute merit pay for teachers, and a desire to make American schools more competitive with other nations. As you read the article with your students, you may have to ask pointed questions in order to help them understand the implications of all of these ideas, and help them figure out how they fell about them.

You may want students to list their own opinions about each of Duncan’s ideas, along with reasons for their opinions. This way they will prepare for the rest of the assignment as they read.

Write the Letter

Once students have a solid understanding of the article and have been able to articulate their responses to it (at least verbally or in shorthand), have them write a letter to Mr. Duncan. After all, they are the products of the American educational system that he says has failed so miserably; they should have a first-hand experience to back up what he says. Have them do the following in their letters:

1. Introduce themselves and explain that they are American high school students.

2. Briefly describe their understanding of the issues raised in the article.

3. Offer opinions on the ideas expressed in the article, and possibly alternative ideas they have about how to improve the quality of American education.

4. Throughout the letter, audience consideration is key to this expository writing lesson. They need to remember that they are writing to an adult who holds a position of authority in our country, and he deserves their respect. Even if they disagree with everything he has said, they will be more persuasive if they write in a respectful tone than they will if they start telling him he’s an idiot (I’m sure your students would never consider such a disrespectful thing, would they?). They must demonstrate that they understand his rationale but that they believe there are better ways to solve the problems in American education (unless they agree with him, and then this letter can become fan mail).

Assess their letters for their understanding of the article, their ability to articulate their ideas, and their consideration of their audience. This will also give you a better idea of how well you understand how to teach expository writing.