This spring I got an envelope in my mailbox in the main office addressed to “any grade 9 student”. At first I was unsure as to why the office staff chose to direct it my way; likely because I work with the Link Crew students who, in turn, work with our grade 9 students to help them transition to high school. I opened the envelope to find a handwritten letter from a grade 9 student named Jeremy in Langley, BC. The enclosed typed letter from Jeremy’s teacher explained that this was part of an activity she called The Great Canadian Mail Race. She explained how it works in her letter & I did a quick Google search to discover that it’s been around since at least 2013. Very cool – how had I not heard of this before?
I decided this would make a great assignment for my grade 9 BTT1O/S class; Information and Communication Technology in Business. They could type up letters to send around the country using Google Docs. So I read Jeremy’s letter out loud to the class. I then gave each of my students a quarter sheet of paper to write a short response to him. We put all of our responses together in an envelope & mailed that off to Jeremy:
Next up, I had my students – in pairs – choose a different province & territory. Within each pair, one student picked a big city and one student picked a small town in their chosen province/territory. I told them they couldn’t pick Ottawa (our town) but next time I would say no Ontario at all – because it meant that with the number of students I had. we left out Newfoundland & Labrador. Each student picked a high school in their chosen city/town.
I made this map of the locations we picked for the purposes of this blog post. Next time I’ll have the class collaboratively build this map in Google My Maps:
I gave students a day to read up about their chosen city/town and the school they had selected. Then my students began composing their letters in Google Docs. The previous week we had learned about composing a proper email message and each wrote a proper email to somebody. We started these letters by discussing as a group what the format of a typed letter should be. We made a sort of template to follow on the whiteboard & students began writing their letters. For many of my students this was their first experience with writing a letter (as it had been composing an email longer than a sentence or two also).
Once they had a rough draft, I had them draw a random name of a classmate and share their doc with that person to be peer-edited/reviewed. We do this by sharing our docs in “comment only” mode. They leave a positive comment as well as something for the person to improve. Then each student returns to their own doc for a final edit.
Once all of our letters were ready to go, we printed each one and wrote something by hand or drew on our letter to make it a little more personal. Each student addressed the envelope for their letter. This was a learning experience in and of itself. Many students were unsure what to write where, how or where to find the proper mailing address for the school online, etc. Lots of learning happened here.
I also typed up a letter that I photocopied & had students include with theirs in their envelope. It read:
My students are writing to you today as part of the Great Canadian Mail Race. A few weeks ago we received a letter from a grade 9 student in BC. We read that letter and each student responded with a short hand-written note that we then mailed back all together.
Today we are sending out new typed letters as part of our BTT1O/S course; Information and Communication Technology in Business. I am evaluating their ability to work in Google Docs as they write their letter. We have arranged it so that we are sending one letter to a small town and one letter to a big city in each of the provinces & territories in Canada. The first person to receive a letter back in the mail will win the race!
We are a very diverse school in Ottawa, Ontario. Some of the students in my class are ESL or even ELD students. ESL students are learning English as a second language. Our ELD students have had significant schooling gaps in their life, and are not yet literate in their native language, let alone in English. They have done their best to write their letters as clearly as possible.
I hope you’ll consider continuing the Great Canadian Mail Race with your class; it’s been a fun experience for us. For some of my students this was the first time they have ever written a letter to someone. Perhaps it will be a first opportunity for some of your students as well. We hope you’ll read this letter with your students and encourage them to respond in kind.
Here are our stuffed envelopes ready to get stamped in the main office & be sent out in tomorrow’s mail!
I can’t wait for letters to start coming back to my students. I know that when they wrote their emails the other week to past teachers, family members, and city councilors they thought it was pretty neat to get back & read the emails they received in return.
This has been a great activity so far. A genuine way to have students create something in Google Docs that we can send out into the real world (a tech skill I have to evaluate for this course anyway). Don’t wait to receive a letter, start the mail chain yourself by having your students write a letter to any grade ___ student elsewhere in our beautiful country. Teaching a course on global studies? Have students pick various countries outside Canada instead.
If you try this activity or have done it in the past please leave a comment below about what you did differently, things that went well, and what you’d change next time so that we can all learn from each other!
– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)