Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

The Lost Art of Letter Writing

Teacher: Michelle Vietor

School: Blue Springs High School

Grade: 9th and 10th grade English, Creative Writing Unit

Show Me Standards: CA1, CA3, CA4

I. Contributing Questions or Goals for Unit

1. Students will read a variety of Harry Truman's letters to his wife Bess Truman and his daughter Margaret, which reveal the personal side of Harry Truman. Personal Letters section of WhistleStop web site

2. Students will analyze and draw conclusions about Truman's character, attitudes, ethics, lifestyle, and interpersonal relationships.

3. Students will note the differences and similarities in language and style between Truman's 5 letters and modern personal letters. (This will include comparisons in forms of expression, esoteric remarks, slang, etc.)

4. Students will compose five letters from the following choices:

5. Closure: Students will generate what conclusions could be drawn from their letters as well their peers' letters. Is this an accurate snapshot of you? How will your letters look in 10-25 years? Compare these thoughts to the class's reflections on Truman's letters.

II. Brief Summary of Responsibilities for Teacher and Students

Day 1: Start unit with preview questions. Ask the students what they know about Truman-- the man, his presidency, his house in Independence, etc. Either place responses on board or just field a discussion. (This depends on the level of the class.) If the students have little knowledge of Truman, provide a brief overview Ask students questions regarding their own letter writing: frequency, saving memorable letters, slang or inside jokes, notes in class, etc. What makes a good letter? Have students go to a computer lab and then to the Project WhistleStop web site and find Truman Letters. The teacher may choose to print off an assortment of letters from the web site listed below.

Remind students of Truman's prolific letter writing and tell them that you (the teacher) acted as editor in choosing certain letters. Depending on much they know about Truman, you will probably have time to read aloud and analyze 2-3 letters in class


Day 2. Continue to read (either in a computer lab or out loud) and analyze letters Truman wrote. You may accomplish 4-6 letters in class.

Day 3: Explain letter writing project to class. See attachment. Students will be given one week to compose five one-paged typed letters. Option: At this point, the teacher may share samples of his or her personal letters and solicit students' reactions and conclusions. However, the teacher may prefer to give students some time in class to get started on their letters.

Day 4: Give students the whole hour to work on their letters. Circulate around the room and brainstorm with those who are having writer's block.

Day 5: If the students used the time wisely the day before, you may want to give them some more time to work on the letters. Otherwise, I would proceed to the next task. A nice transition would be a couple of short stories regarding individual character.

Week 2:

Day 6: Short Stories

Day 7: Short Stories

Day 8: Students' personal letters are due. Tell the students to put a check plus at the top of their favorite letter and a check minus at the top of their least favorite letter. Tell the students to write "SHARE" on the top of two letters that they wouldn't mind sharing with the class. Collect the letters. (You will have to decide how to keep the letters anonymous, so you will have to instruct them not to put their names on the letters when you give the initial directions. Perhaps coded stickers would help in the sorting process. Students should put their names on the rubric and clip all of their letters together.) Distribute the SHARE letters randomly and let the students read the letters. Call on students for the reactions and conclusions about this person. Make sure they cite specific examples from the letters to support their conclusions.

Day 9: This day will continue in the sharing and discussing of peers' letters. For closure, students will compare their thoughts and analysis regarding their letters to Truman's letters.

Day 10: Optional: a field trip to the Truman Library, Independence, Missouri, to see the exhibit "Dear Bess: Love Letters from Harry Truman." You could also offer this as an extra credit incentive if the students attend the exhibit on their own time. (Limited Window of Opportunity)

III. Resources:

Dear Bess. The Letters from Harry to Bess Truman 1910-1959, Edited by Robert H. Ferrell, W. W. Norton & Company, 1983.

Truman Library web site: / (letters)

IV Evaluation

See attached rubric