Valentine’s Day: Writing Letters and Email Etiquette

Valentine’s Day is a great time to teach what some may say is an outdated practice of writing letters. We are in a generation that values speed and efficiency over patience and care. Letters truly are a practice in diligence as one must hand-write them, patience as you must wait for your letter to arrive, and a practice in care as every word was lovingly chosen. Letter writing is a timeless activity that also can translate well into email etiquette, to make it relevant to the times. This Valentine’s Day: Writing Letters and Email Etiquette will be a must in your classroom.

Valentine’s Day makes me think of handwritten cards with misspelled words and chunky handwriting, cursive swirls, heart stickers, and pink and red pictures with comical puns. I just love Valentine’s Day in the classroom. Many schools have affectionately adopted Friendship Day as a replacement and I love that too. Promoting love, kindness, friendship, and my favorite color: pink, are a win/win in my book! 🙂 

By taking the time to teach letter writing, teachers are in turn educating students on how to write a proper email, as well. This fills two needs with one deed!

Step 1: Parts of a Letter

I love to teach letter writing by simply starting with the parts of a letter. The proper parts of a letter are: 

  • Heading: Address of Recipient/Date
  • Salutation
  • Body
  • Complimentary Closing
  • Signature Line

Step 2: Practice Writing Letters

Next, we practice writing letters to each other in the classroom. Our letters serve a purpose. For instance, we talk ahead of time as to what their letter will be about. Is it a get-to-know-you letter? If so, students will want to offer information about themselves and then ask questions. Is the purpose of this letter to ask them an important question or to ask them to do something for them? Students will need to have an introduction before diving into this all-important question and of course, they’ll need to say thank you in anticipation of an answer to the question. By first deciding the purpose and how to lay out the letter, students are more prepared with what to write. 

Step 3: Manners!

Students should remember their manners in a letter. By offering a greeting first and by saying please and thank you, students are showing that manners aren’t a lost art form, like letter writing. We talk about how sometimes when others read a letter, it’s hard to judge tone or expression as we can’t see facial cues or listen to a voice, so using manners and choosing to be overly kind, allows the reader to not feel defensive and in turn, can respond in a polite manner as well. 

Step 4: Authentic Letters

Practice authentic ways to write letters. Here are some ways to practice letter writing. 

Flat Stanley Activity:

The Flat Stanley books are based on a boy who gets flattened by a falling bulletin board, but this has a perk. Flat Stanley can be mailed in an envelope to experience new places. Students read a Flat Stanley book and color and cut out their own Stanley. Next, students use the template letter to help write their own letters. Students mail their Flat Stanley and letter to friends and family in other parts of the world. Recipients take their Flat Stanley with them and snap pictures of Stanley and themselves doing something fun! These pictures, a letter, and Flat Stanley are then sent back to the student. We completed Flat Stanley when I taught elementary school; it was such a popular activity.  My son completed it in his first-grade classroom and still talks about it today!

Pen-Pal Arrangements:

Arrange a pen pal correspondence with another class. Teachers can find pen-pals for their students through other schools in their districts or even through a college friend who happens to teach in another county or state. 

Family Letter Writing:

Assign your students to write a letter to a family member that may live in a different state or even a different town. When your student receives a letter back, the magic in their eyes is heartwarming and they can then see how important letter writing is. 

Teacher Letters:

Have students write letters to you! Place a mailbox on your desk. I snagged a cute foam one from Target one year. Remind students to write a letter to you with a purpose and with the proper parts so they can practice!

Letters to Emails: 

I believe that if students are trained to write proper letters in elementary school, then they can also write proficient and kind emails once they get older. If you’ve ever received an unkind, curt email from a parent, you definitely know that writing a proficient email is an important skill. 

When I taught middle or high school, I would often receive emails from students that were like a text messages among peers. There was no greeting, no manners, no kindness, and no respect. 

I would receive one-line emails that read: “You graded my essay yet?” Another example I received was, “_________said we had homework. That true?” I’ve even received extremely rude and angry emails from high schoolers over grades!

Oftentimes I wouldn’t reply and would have to address their email in person. That’s when I realized that I needed to teach email etiquette at the beginning of the year. Older students needed to learn how to send a proper email. I had to explain to them that I was their teacher and not their friend that they were texting. 

Email Etiquette

As emailing is a huge part of being an adult, is a requirement in virtually every job, and is a life-long skill. Translating those letter-writing abilities into email etiquette is an easy adjustment if they learned how to first write a proper letter. 

At the beginning of the year, teach your older students to write a proper email. From having a greeting, a kind introduction, a purpose, overabundant manners, and a respectful closing, students can write proficient emails (and perhaps teach those parents how to do that too!). 

Utilize Picture Books to Teach Writing Letter Skills

Here are some wonderful picture books to enforce those letter-writing skills in elementary school: 

How to Send a Hug by Hayley Rocco, Illustrated by Jon Rocco

Grab yours today!

The Love Letter: A Valentine’s Day Book for Kids by Anika Aldamuy Denise, Illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins

Grab yours today!

Can I Be Your Dog? By Troy Cummings

Grab yours today!

Dear Teacher: A Funny Back to School Book For Kids About First Day Jitters by Amy Husband

Grab yours today!

The Jolly Postman, by Allan Ahlberg, Illustrated by Janet Ahlberg

Grab yours today!

This nostalgic classic includes real letters for your students to hold and read. A definite must-have in the classroom.

Resources: 

If you want your students to practice emails, why not use Valentine’s Day as an excuse? With our Valentine’s Day Writing Paper writing resource, they can do so!

Grab yours today!

We created a FUN, Design-It-Yourself Digital Valentine’s Card (completed solely on Google Slides.) Students or teachers can choose between a Variety of Colors, Digital Stickers, and the cutest Gnome Puns Stickers to create unique Valentine’s Day Cards to send to their Digital Friends.

Grab yours today!

We also incorporated Student Directions for writing Haikus to turn this exciting project into a Language Arts Lesson as well. The project includes Complete Instructions and Example for your students to follow to create a Valentine Haiku on their card.

Grab yours today!

Use Valentine’s Day to practice letter writing with our Valentine’s Writing Papers. Students can send their mom an excellent letter telling them how and why they love her so much, or they can send a family member an appreciation letter as well. 

Conclusion:

Letter writing may seem like an antiquated practice, but it is a timeless skill that should be practiced more and more. A pro is that proper letter writing transitions nicely into email etiquette, a skill students definitely need as they get older. Utilize Valentine’s Day to help students learn letter writing and email etiquette. Letter and email writing will be a fun activity that they’ll fall in love with! 

Author of Blog

5 Winter Picture Books to Teach Figurative Language

In college, my beloved Reading Methods professor read us picture books at the beginning of class. As twenty-something-old college students, we relished those five-ten minutes it took for her to read a book. We could relax, get lost in something other than student teaching hours, seminars, and projects, and just enjoy a good story. When she read us a picture book for the very first time, she asked, “Did you enjoy that?” Our response was, “Of course, we did!” She went on to say that if we, as grown adults, enjoy a picture book this much, then don’t discount it for older elementary students, middle schoolers, or even high schoolers. It was one of those ah-ha moments I’ve clearly held onto ever since. Today, we are going to dive into 5 winter pictures books to teach figurative language.

As a teacher who has taught all three levels of students: elementary, middle, and high school, her philosophy has proven true as I have used picture books quite often to teach concepts, as a brain break, and to ignite a love of reading and writing in students.

Picture Books as Mentor Text

Picture books are being used as mentor text more and more. Just because a book is written for younger students doesn’t mean the author didn’t devote hours to that piece of writing, perfecting every word, every character, and every storyline. Just because it’s geared toward younger students doesn’t mean that the writing isn’t amazing. Using picture books to teach students how to write is the beginning of students connecting authentic, real-world literature to their own writing.

When teaching writing, I love to teach figurative language, a concept explored in literature classes as we analyze stories and novels. Think about your favorite author and you probably don’t think about how many similes or metaphors they used; however, you do think about how descriptive their characters were or how they got the setting just right for you to imagine it clearly. Great authors use figurative language so smoothly that you don’t even realize it. Figurative language takes descriptive writing to the next level. It adds a creative flair to help readers understand the words and descriptions even more clearly. That’s a writing skill I hope my students can grasp.

The following picture books can be utilized as wonderful mentor text to teach figurative language. Plus, they’re based in winter, so it fits in nicely with the season, and if your students are writing a winter story, these books will be great inspiration.

1. Owl Moon, by Jane Yolen

A Caldecott Medal winner, this book breathes figurative language. It is in almost every sentence. This book paints such a lovely, timeless, still scene of winter. It is a soothing picture book that students will enjoy and glean a lot from on how to use figurative language.

Grab your copy today!

Publisher’s Synopsis: Late one winter night a little girl and her father go owling. The trees stand still as statues and the world is silent as a dream. Whoo-whoo-whoo, the father calls to the mysterious nighttime bird. But there is no answer.

Wordlessly the two companions walk along, for when you go owling you don’t need words. You don’t need anything but hope. Sometimes there isn’t an owl, but sometimes there is. Distinguished author Jane Yolen has created a gentle, poetic story that lovingly depicts the special companionship of a young child and her father as well as humankind’s close relationship to the natural world. Wonderfully complemented by John Schoenherr’s soft, exquisite watercolor illustrations, this is a verbal and visual treasure, perfect for reading around and sharing at bedtime.

Examples of figurative language:

Simile: The trees stood still as giant statues. / Somewhere behind us, a train whistle blew, long and low, like a sad, sad song. 

Personification: A farm dog answered the train, and then a second dog joined in. They sang out, trains and dogs, for a real long time. And when their voices faded away, it was as quiet as a dream.

Alliteration: Our feet crunched over the crisp snow./ He looked up searching the stars.

Metaphor: The moon made his face into a silver mask. 

These are just a couple of examples from Owl Moon. This book is a wellspring of figurative language. 

2. Snowflakes Fall, by Patricia MacLachlan

Snowflakes Fall is a wonderfully descriptive picture book all about the beauty of snow, the winter season, the children who enjoy it, and even the blessings found at the end of the winter season. Not only does this book contain a blizzard of figurative language, but the deep meaning and motivation behind this book are also inspiring. 

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Publisher’s Synopsis: In Snowflakes Fall, Newbery Medalist Patricia MacLachlan and award-winning artist Steven Kellogg portray life’s natural cycle: its beauty, its joy, and its sorrow. Together, the words and pictures offer the promise of renewal that can be found in our lives—snowflakes fall, and return again as raindrops so that flowers can grow.MacLachlan and Kellogg, who are longtime friends, were moved to collaborate on a message of hope for children and their families following the tragic events in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, on December 14, 2012. Kellogg lived in Sandy Hook for thirty-five years—he raised his family there and was an active member of the community. With Snowflakes Fall, they have created a truly inspiring picture book that is both a celebration of life and a tribute to the qualities that make each individual unique.

Examples of figurative language: 

Personification: Snowflakes fall to sit on gardens and evergreen trees. / Frantic, icy snowflakes scratch the window glass./ Branches fly and shadows darken dreams. 

Simile: Snowflakes fall, drift, and swirl together like the voices of children. 

Alliteration:On its loved library, And its familiar flagpole 

3. Bright Winter Night, by Alli Brydon

This adorable picture book has beautiful illustrations, incorporates the forest animals working together as a team, and has rhyming words. All of these elements will intrigue students, but it also has some great examples of figurative language. 

Grab your copy today!

Publisher’s Synopsis: The forest calls, and creatures come: big and small, one by one. They sense there is a task to do as night descends, replacing blue. On one bright winter night, a group of woodland creatures emerges from the forest. Despite their differences, they start to build something together, using items found on the forest floor. What are they making? And how quickly can they build it? Something special is happening tonight, and soon the animals are off—in a race to catch a glimpse of one of nature’s most astounding wonders! With lyrical text and sparkling artwork, Bright Winter Night is a celebration of the joy and beauty of nature and the special gift of friendship and togetherness.

Examples of figurative language:

Metaphor: The wolf pack launches with a start and races through the forest’s heart. 

Onomatopoeia: The sleigh careens, the rabbits jump as the rest go BUMP BUMP BUMP. 

Personification: The colors dazzle, glow, and blaze-the flashes sizzle, shock and amaze!/ The magic in the winter’s air drifts all around them, everywhere. 

4. The Snow Dancer, by Addie Boswell

Not only are the illustrations gorgeous in The Snow Dancer, but the word choice is the perfect example of descriptive writing. The figurative language is also amazingly abundant in this story. Additionally, if you wanted to choose one book to focus on onomatopoeia, this one is it! 

Grab your copy today!

Publisher’s Synopsis: Young dancer Sofia wakes up to a quiet, white world—it’s a snow day! She makes her way outside to the neighborhood park, where a field awaits her, white and shining and open. It isn’t long before the rest of the neighborhood wakes its sleepy head—and the other kids make their way to the park, scattering all of Sofia’s beautiful silence. But with the help of a new young friend, Sofia is ready to show everyone what a snow dancer can do on a perfect day like this. With lyrical language and gorgeous art, this book sparkles with all the joy and beauty of a snow day.

Examples of figurative language: 

Personification: All through the night, they fell-frosting the rooftops, fluffing the sidewalks, laying fuzzy hats on the fire hydrants. 

Alliteration: She sniffed the cold, clean air. 

Onomatopoeia: Whooomph! She fell down the hidden steps./ Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. She hopscotched down the invisible sidewalk.  (There are so many more examples of Onomatopoeia!)

Simile: The sun shone like a giant spotlight. The soccer field gleamed like a giant stage. /Outside the world sparkled and glistened. 

5. Goodbye Autumn, Hello Winter, by Kenard Pak

I love this series of books. Kenard Pak has a picture book that says goodbye to every season and hello to another. These straightforward books with gorgeous illustrations use personification for the entirety of the story, as parts of the season speak as if they are animate. Not only is there a plethora of personification examples, but the author uses other figurative language examples as well. 

Grab your copy today!

Publisher’s Synopsis: As leaves fall from their trees, animals huddle against the cold, and frost creeps across windows, everyone knows―winter is on its way! Join a brother and sister as they explore nature and take a stroll through their twinkling town, greeting all the signs of the coming season. In a series of conversations with everything from the setting sun to curious deer, they say goodbye to autumn and welcome the glorious first snow of winter in Kenar Pak’s Goodbye Autumn, Hello Winter.

Examples of figurative language: 

Alliteration: Autumn afternoon/Setting sun/wispy winds/…Swept into the sky

Personification: Now that the wispy winds have come, we fall from the oak tree branches and are swept into the sky! (Leaves)/ Our pine-needle branches shiver in the wind while you sleep. (There are many examples of personification!)

Metaphor: Hello, snowflakes. Hello. We fall in a white, misty curtain and muffle all the sounds around you. 

Simile: Hello, clouds. Hello. We cover the sky like a downy, soft blanket. 

Activities: 

To further practice identifying and writing figurative language, check out this FREE Picture Book Figurative Language Activity we have!

Grab yours today!

We also have Figurative Language Posters available in our store as well!

Click here to grab yours today!

Conclusion:

Using winter picture books as mentor text to teach figurative language is a great way to provide authentic examples for students. Picture books can be utilized for any grade level as a way for students to see real writing examples that have figurative language and to practice identifying figurative language. Also, winter picture books bring just the right coziness that makes reading so fun and delightful. 

Author of Blog

Winter Read Aloud: Radiator the Snowman

January is such a magical time for reading. Many winter picture books surround snowy landscapes, crackling firesides, snowmen characters, snow activities, warm drinks and food, and sweet themes of friendship and family. Winter is the perfect time to cozy up and read while watching the snow fall past the windows. It is my favorite time to grab a novel, some hot chocolate, and enjoy the ambiance. January is definitely the perfect time to enjoy a winter read aloud.

I remember watching the snow fall from my wrap-around classroom windows as I read winter picture books to my students. Something about winter and reading goes hand in hand. One of my favorite winter picture books is Radiator the Snowman by Tami Parker. 

Grab your copy today!

I know, I know. The author is my mother and maybe I am biased, but because she’s my mother, I understand the background of this story and her motivations for writing it and it makes me love this book even more. 

If you haven’t read this adorable story, here is a Youtube link where you can hear it being read aloud and fall in love with it! It is also available for purchase here on Amazon. 

Publisher’s Synopsis: Radiator the Snowman knew he was different from the other snowmen of his most distinguished village. These feelings had always been with him since he was first formed in the hands of the children of the local junk man to the present time period in which he was kept away from the finer snowmen on display in his village. However, Radiator’s chance to join this prestigious league soon arrives. Will he take this opportunity or decide to stay in the junkyard with his friends?

Radiator the Snowman is a wonderful story to read to little ones when you want them to know how important they are to each person in their life and why they should never compare themselves to others.

When I taught sixth grade, we would dive into this book every January. This picture book is a sweet story that’s been utilized from preschool on up. However, if you’re looking for a picture book that has deep themes, challenging vocabulary, and acts as a wonderful mentor text, I recommend teaching this story from 4th graders to middle schoolers. 

Here are five activities you can use with Radiator the Snowman.

Activity 1: Explore Setting

A huge part of why Radiator looks the way he does and is motivated to become part of the Distinguished Snowmen Society is because of his setting. He lives in a junkyard and his inner and outer character traits were literally formed because of this particular setting. Not to mention the time of winter, which is why our main character is a snowman. Students can explore how the setting prompts the story along, creates the main character, and causes his inner motivations. 

A simple setting analysis I love to have students complete is a no-prep activity. Students receive a piece of copy paper and are tasked with drawing the setting of the story. They color the setting and using text-based evidence, write down five quotes from the book that relate to the setting and connect to how it shaped the character. Radiator the Snowman is free on Kindle Unlimited, so I would project the story onto the board for students to find quotes. 

On the back of the copy paper, they write a paragraph exploring how Radiator was formed from the junkyard and how this setting is what causes him to want to change into a fancy snowman and “better” himself. Students also explore how the junkyard setting shaped who his friends were and how in the end, Radiator had profound realizations about this special junkyard he calls home and his true friends.  

Activity 2: Create a Snowman

Radiator is a truly unique snowman. His outer appearance is formed from the junkyard. Radiator’s white snow is dingy from the dirt of the yard. His hat was tattered from the garbage. His patchy wool socks were used to help warm the junkyard’s kittens and his nose was a screwdriver. We also see how Radiator changes physically as well as emotionally throughout the story. When trying to join the Distinguished Society of Snowmen, Radiator undergoes a makeover with a shiny black stovepipe as his new hat, a borrowed scarf from the junkman’s wife, and a found carrot as his new nose. 

A fun activity is to have students create their very own snowman inspired by Radiator. By incorporating technology skills and writing, this resource allows students to digitally create a snowman from scratch, as well as a scene for the setting, and then write a story all about it! The items can also be printed for students to create a craft instead of completing it digitally. This is a great way for students to connect to Radiator the Snowman: by creating their own snowman and the story surrounding it. 

Grab yours today!

Activity 3: Theme & Character Analysis/Friendship Valentine’s Cards

The former elementary teacher in me loves how Valentine’s Day is in winter. Pink and red hearts with snowy backdrops create such a cozy and sweet vibe. One of the main themes found in Radiator the Snowman is to radiate with love. This book is perfect to read before Valentine’s Day or Friendship Day, as many schools celebrate. Radiator’s name is created because the dingy snow used to form him was from the top of an old radiator in the junkyard, but in the end, we see that Radiator radiates with love for his friends. 

This picture book not only focuses on our main character but does a splendid job developing the minor characters as well. From Head Light, an old wise owl to Hubcap, the friendly junkyard dog, each of Radiator’s friends holds a special place in his heart.  Radiator even keeps orphaned kittens warm in his wool socks and they become his friends as well. At the end of the story, we see just how special Radiator’s friends are to him. 

Grab your copy today!

Friendship Valentine’s Cards

Discuss and explore the theme of what it means to radiate with Love. Ask students to come up with tangible ways they can show love and kindness to those around them, just like Radiator and his friends did with each other.

Students can take this story as inspiration to radiate with love for their special friendships. They can write Valentine’s cards to their friends writing details on why they cherish their friendship so much. Students can also write a friendship Valentine’s card from Radiator to his friends Head Light, Hubcap, and the kittens showing how thankful he is for their friendship. 

Another activity is that students can choose a minor character and examine their perspective as they write a Valentine’s Day card to Radiator. 

Take it a step further and have students create digital Valentine’s Day cards using our resource.

Digital Valentines Day Cards

Activity 4: Summary & Reading Comprehension Questions

We have FREE reading comprehension questions available for you for Radiator the SnowmanGrab yours now!

Grab your FREE copy today!

Another simple and no-prep way to practice reading comprehension is through writing a summary or a retelling. Students draw a large snowman on copy paper. Write “Beginning” in the top circle or the face, “Middle” in the middle circle, and “End” in the last snowman circle. Students retell the beginning, middle, and end of the story using the snowman circles by writing the story’s events in sequence. 

Activity 5: Radiator the Snowman Glyph

The most important theme this book teaches is that everyone is uniquely made and special just the way they are. Radiator doesn’t realize this at the beginning of the story as he tries to join the Distinguished Snowmen Society. He changes his appearance and even forgets about his kitten friends. Radiator tries to change to fit in with a group of snowmen who are anything but kind to him. When I taught sixth grade, we discussed this theme many times. Middle schoolers struggle with this concept so much. While they try to change who they really are to fit in with various groups, they lose sight of what makes them special and unique, just like Radiator did. 

Grab your copy today!

I love the activity of completing a glyph. It’s a fun way to show students’ special and unique differences and preferences in art form! Students can appreciate and celebrate their differences in this activity. This particular glyph incorporates winter and Radiator the Snowman. Students answer questions about themselves, the story, and wintertime to create their own unique snowman glyph. Each question’s answer corresponds with something they must draw. 

Conclusion

Radiator the Snowman will be a winter favorite in your classroom. Every student that has read this picture book has adored it. Some even say it’s their favorite winter story! With its deep themes of friendship, kindness, appreciation, and celebrating unique differences, Radiator the Snowman has lots of teachable moments. This January, your classroom and students will radiate with love for this book!

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