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Grades 4–12
2 Sessions: 1 Hour each
Informational, Narrative, Persuasive

Essential Words: Letters of Gratitude to Essential Workers

Cristeta Boarini, 826MSP, and Skylar Burkhardt, 826 National
Few expressions of gratitude are more meaningful than a personalized letter. In this lesson, students reach out to essential workers and return their acts of service and kindness by giving thanks.
Download Includes
Lesson Instructions
Essential Words — Handout
What Your Students Will Learn

Students will write letters of gratitude for someone they choose, ensuring development, organization, and style are appropriate to the purpose and audience.

Common Core Standards
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.11-12.4
Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. (Grade-specific expectations for writing types are defined in standards 1-3 above.)
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.4.4
Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development and organization are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. (Grade-specific expectations for writing types are defined in standards 1-3 above.)
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.5.4
Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development and organization are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.6.4
Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.7.4
Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.8.4
Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.9-10.4
Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. (Grade-specific expectations for writing types are defined in standards 1-3 above.)
What Your Students Will Produce

This lesson provides students the opportunity to send letters of gratitude to people who could use support during the COVID-19 pandemic—and beyond.

Student Writing Samples

Grade 7
Writing
Heart and Soul

by Ibrahim, Grade 7, 826 MSP

Narrative

In this letter from the Essential Words lesson, 7th grader Ibrahim thanks Nurses for the heart and soul they put into caring for their patients and fighting disease.

Grade 9
Writing
Strength, Bravery, Selflessness, and Dedication

by Sammie, Grade 9, 826 MSP

Narrative
Persuasive

In this letter from the Essential Words lesson, a freshman at South High School in Minneapolis thanks care workers for supporting our local and national communities during this global pandemic.

Grade 12
Writing
The Heart of New York

by Matthew Inoa, 826 NYC

Narrative
Persuasive

In this letter from the Essential Words lesson, a student describes how essential workers are the pulse of New York, fueling the city’s hope.

Grade 9
Writing
You Deserve More

by Sabrin, Grade 9, 826 MSP

Narrative
Persuasive

In this letter from the Essential Words lesson, 9th grader Sabrin discusses how she feels both happy and sad, and thanks nurses nationwide for bringing her peace through their work.

Grade 12
Writing
It will be hard, but you will prevail

by Helen, Grade 12, 826 MSP

Narrative
Persuasive

In this letter from the Essential Words lesson, a senior at South High School in Minneapolis offers words of support to healthcare workers across the country, including her own mom.

Grade 12
Writing
Lives on the Line

by Terry Velasquez, Grade 12, The Bronx, NY

Narrative
Persuasive

In this letter from the Essential Words lesson, a student shares gratitude for the dedication of nurses and gives “credit where credit is due.”

Grade 10
Writing
I Can Only Imagine

by Tala, Grade 10, 826 MSP

Narrative
Persuasive

In this letter from the Essential Words lesson, 10th grader Tala asks essential workers what motivates them to keep going during these difficult times, offering her own views on hope for the future.

Grade 12
Writing
The Reason We Have Balance

by Kailyn Espinosa, 826NYC

Narrative
Persuasive

In this letter from the Essential Words lesson, a student shares how essential workers’ courage and compassion center her during these hectic times.

What You Will Do
Session 1
1 Hour
Brainstorming, Researching, Reflecting
Session 2
1 Hour
Putting It All Together
Introduction :

During the COVID-19 pandemic, when students across the country were sheltering in place, many may felt like there is no way to make a difference beyond the walls of their home. This lesson provided a unique opportunity to change that by calling on students to share their voices in an essential way. While it was developed in response to the pandemic, much of the lesson still applies today. It is designed for students to reflect on essential workers in their communities, learn more about their work, and share gratitude with people who could use it the most.

These friends, family, and community members are going to work every day to care for others, often at great expense to themselves and their own families. Many people are describing healthcare workers, grocery clerks, cleaning professionals, and other essential workers as at the “front lines” of the coronavirus “battle.” While the militarization of this language does capture the danger and courage that encompass many essential workers lives right now, it does not address the nurturing and caring nature of their work. Their work, right now and always, is rooted in service to the community. Let’s take this opportunity as a community to thank them, not just because they are essential workers, but because they are brave, caring, and essential people.

Session 1 : Brainstorming, Researching, Reflecting

Students will reflect on what they’re grateful for, research the range of experiences of essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, and practice expressing gratitude.

You Will Need
  • Essential Words—Handout
  • Pencil, pen, or writing utensil of your choice!
  • Platform to play video (optional)
How To Begin

10 Minutes

Begin by introducing students to the “Feelings Bank” in the Essential Words—Handouts. Have students circle words they feel describe how they’re doing right now. Students may use the blank spaces at the bottom of the page to add their own words if their feelings aren’t captured by those provided.

After students reflect, invite those who are interested to share. As many students may currently be processing their emotions and may not feel open to sharing, provide space for students to think and opt in as they feel comfortable. For this reason, it’s especially important to remind students who do choose to share (and those who don’t) that all their feelings are valid. During a quarantine, so many feelings can be experienced. Some questions to explore as a class include:

How are current events impacting you? Changing your routines? Making you feel?

Use this conversation to introduce letter writing as an opportunity for conversation and connection around the many emotions we are experiencing.

STEP 1

10 Minutes

Gratitude Reflection

Note: This step was inspired by “People, Places, and Things”, a brainstorming activity by 826 New Orleans’ Program Director Kyley Pulphus. You can check out the original activity and find more uses for T-chart brainstorming here.

Using the chart in the Essential Words—Handouts, have students write down a list of people, places, and things they’re feeling grateful for right now. Encourage students to get creative with the list—the people, places and things do not have to be people they’ve met or objects in their home. You can model this by showing a few things you’re grateful for. There are lots of examples to choose from: your pet, the nurse who took care of your mom, the sunshine, cloudy days, pencils, the beach, your bed.

If students are struggling to come up with people they’re grateful for in their community, you can point them to the work of essential workers. Ask students what kind of jobs or roles are considered essential at this time. Many of the examples in this lesson mention people in the healthcare industry such as nurses or doctors. Some other roles that deserve our gratitude include:

  • Maintenance Staff
  • Case Managers & Social Workers
  • Workers supporting groceries, pharmacies, and other retail
  • Bus/public transit drivers

 

After 5-7 minutes of writing, invite students to share some of the things they’re most grateful for.

 

STEP 2

15 Minutes

Choosing Your Audience

Next, ask students to choose one person on that list they feel gratitude toward. Note that while the lesson and its examples focus primarily on people in healthcare, we know there are many kinds of essential workers and people staying in place who deserve celebration and support. We urge students to write to any individual who is on their mind during quarantine.

To help students choose their audience, it may be helpful to go over some of the basic needs that essential workers are risking, both during this pandemic and always. Ask students what some of these needs may be. Some possible answers could be:

  • Fair Pay
    – Janitorial workers are notoriously underpaid for their essential work, often working for minimum wage. Their work during the pandemic – and always – is literally keeping the country alive. As they navigate for fair pay for this life risking work, they often are met with little support.
  • Safety Precautions
    – Many essential workers like bus drivers or retail workers are in close proximity to many people every day. Many of these individuals are not provided with the necessary safety precautions to keep them safe from the exchange of germs.
  • Resource Supply
    – Masks, sanitizer, and other crucial resources have been in short supply. These resources keep essential workers, their patients and/or customers, and their loved ones safe and healthy.
  • Long/Irregular Hours
    – Healthcare members may need to work extended or extra shifts due an overwhelming number of patients needing care. Employees may need to work longer hours to cover for those who are ill or caring for family members. Teachers may work irregular hours to connect with all students and families while caring for their own.
  • Lack of Sick Leave
    – Essential workers may not have health care. They may not be able to take extended sick leave and keep their job.
  • Inability to see families for fear of spreading the virus
    – Essential workers who are exposed to the virus daily may be self-isolating from their families, causing additional strain for them and their loved ones

 

As students consider the vast challenges that these workers are facing, it may be helpful to show them articles or videos with messages directly from essential workers:

 

Despite these systemic injustices happening nationwide, the inequities essential workers face are often overlooked in the news recounting these heroics. In this step, students will not just acknowledge these difficulties—they’ll ask about them. With these questions, students begin the process of empathy and connection. Rather than assuming we know anyone’s situation, asking questions creates space for essential workers to own their lived experiences.

  • With these inequities and challenges in mind, what questions do students have for their audience? Write them down on the “Question Bank” section of the Essential Words—Handouts.

STEP 3

10 Minutes

Actions & Impacts

This step helps students think about what the student’s recipient does, why that person is important, and how their actions impact the student.

To begin, ask students to fill in the actions column of the “Getting Specific” page in the Essential Words—Handouts. The action column will consist of real observations of courageous acts from healthcare workers or the target audience of your student’s choice.

To help students come up with a list of essential worker takes, encourage them to think through the chosen person’s daily routine:

  • How might their life/job be different now?
  • What actions do they have to take now that are different than usual?
  • How might they be feeling?

This could also be an opportunity for students to do some research. Students can reference the videos, news, articles online, or stories they’ve heard from friends and family to come up with a list of actions essential workers are likely taking.

Once the action column is filled in with a few activities, have students go through and fill in the corresponding importance and impact of each action. Use the example of Frank the bus driver to help explain to students that there are two important outcomes we want to think about:

  1. Importance: The societal influence these actions have.
  2. Impact: The way these actions affect students personally.

STEP 4

15 Minutes

Expressing Gratitude

Your students have described how they’re feeling and considered the perspective and experience of essential workers. Now, it’s time to bring those two ideas together. The best way to thank someone is not just in the word thank you, but in sharing how others have made our lives better. Share a few examples of this with your students by using this format and thanking them.

“Thank you so much for being such wonderful students!”

OR

“Thank you so much for coming to class every day. Seeing your face every day makes me feel like I’m not alone.”

Ask students how these two quotes are different. What do they learn from the second quote that they don’t from the first?

Explain that by sharing not only WHAT their behavior is, but HOW it makes you feel and WHY, it helps the people we care about understand their specific impact. Provide students with the template for this and have them practice this technique using the “Expressing Gratitude” page in the Essential Words—Handouts:

Thank you ___(name/title)___ for ___(action)___. When you ___(action)___ it makes me feel ___(emotion)___ because ___(explanation)___.

Session 2 : Putting It All Together

Students will write a letter to those who can use our gratitude most. Whether it’s thanking someone for going to work or for staying home, this lesson provides students an opportunity to use their voice to make a difference.

You Will Need
  1. Essential Words—Handout
  2. Pencil, pen, or writing utensil of your choice!
  3. Paper or a document to write your letter on.
How To Begin

10 Minutes

Now it’s time for students to draft their letter! Begin by having students brainstorm a list of components letters often have. Some options they may come up with include:

  • Greeting
  • Sign off
  • Questions
  • Stories
  • Pictures
  • Tone/Purpose
  • Beginning, Middle, End

Now you get to share with students they’ve already brainstormed content for their beginning middle and end, woohoo! It’s time to piece it together.

The first step of beginning the letter is choosing tone. Tone is one way that students are able to make their thank you letter unique and personalized. Their letter can be comforting, it can bring joy, it can even make readers laugh. To do this, it may be helpful to revisit the feelings bank. Using another color, students may circle one to two words that answers the following question:

What emotions do you hope the recipient(s) of your letter feels after reading it?

STEP 1

10 Minutes

Introducing Yourself

Now that students have chosen a tone, it’s time to begin the introduction. Explain to students that the beginning of their letter should address the following question:

Who are you, and why are you writing? 

Now it’s time to write! If students would like more guidance they can use the “Introducing Yourself” page of the Essential Words—Handouts to begin their introduction. This handout features examples students may choose to share while leaving room for students to individualize their introduction.

As students are sharing who they are and how they feel, encourage them to return the question to their audience. The introduction is a great time to ask questions that remind essential workers that we are all humans with feelings and backstories. Students can return to the “Question Bank” handout to look for questions they may want to ask or answer.

After students have written their introductions invite students to share the first part of their letter or ask questions about this section.

STEP 2

15 Minutes

Action

Introduce the middle section of the letters to students as an opportunity to use their research and details they collected in the “Getting Specific” section of the Essential Words—Handouts. Explain that these questions, facts, and specifics will show the letter recipients that the students have been paying attention to them, their work, and the sacrifices they are making. Provide the following prompts to students for their writing:

What meaningful interactions have you had with hospital staff (or your chosen audience) before the pandemic? What have you heard about the person you’re writing to and the work that they’re doing?

Students can continue to refer back to the “Question Bank” handout and ask questions that guide the conversation and tone of the letter. For example, in this section students may share a personal experience with a healthcare worker then ask questions about how the worker felt in that moment. Alternatively, if a student is writing about challenges essential workers are facing, the student may lift up their audience by asking about their sources of strength or hope.

STEP 3

15 Minutes

Gratitude

At last it’s time for students to dig into their gratitude. Point students to the “Expressing Gratitude” handout. This section of the letter is where they plug in the what+how+why format of expressing gratitude they wrote in the previous session. They can use the thank you’s they practiced on the handout, or write new ones for the letter. It’s also an opportunity to reinforce their desired tone. Students should write with the following prompts in mind:

Why are you grateful for their work, how does it impact you? How do you want to make them feel?

Using the “Question Bank,” students should return the questions to their audience as they share their own answers. Some questions students might ask and/or answer include:

  • Who and what are they grateful for?
  • What brings them hope?
  • What makes them laugh?

STEP 4

10 Minutes

Finishing Touches

With their draft in place, students can use the final 10 minutes to finish their letters and add any finishing touches. Students should begin by revisiting the tone they selected at the beginning of this session and re-reading their letter with that in mind. Students may add a few extra lines to enhance their tone, or add other creative elements to their letter. Some creative opportunities for students include:

  • Adding a self portrait
  • Drawing portraits of the workers
  • Creating a border with some of the other things they’re grateful for from their T-chart.
  • Making a hard copy of the letter using their favorite pen.

If students finish early and have extra time, they can go back to the “Feelings Bank”. Ask students to think again how they’re feeling. They can mark the document using a different color of pen, or underline words instead of circling. Invite students to share their answers if they’re comfortable. This process can also be done with the following prompts.

Have your feelings changed since we started? Why/why not?

How does it feel to express gratitude?

STEP 5

Conclusion

Thank students for sharing their essential words! Every word of kindness makes an impact, so ensure students have a plan for sharing their powerful writing once it’s finished. If students are not sharing their letter with someone they know, please consider sharing it with 826 National where we’ll be organizing and distributing letters to essential workers.

How to share and submit your letter:

  1. Share or send your letter directly to the recipient you know!
  2. Collect letters to send to your local hospital, grocery store, favorite restaurant, or other essential business.
  3. 826 National is collecting letters to essential workers from students like you! By sharing your letter with us, you’ll have the opportunity to have your words featured in a collection of letters shared with essential workers nationwide. Submit your letter here!

Download the Materials
Essential Words—Handouts

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Media

In this Lesson, students will learn how to write comedy sketches inspired by "Monty Python’s Flying Circus."

Grades 8–12
Lessons
Map Your Streets & Tell Us Its Stories

by Allie Mariano, 826 New Orleans

Informational
Media
Narrative

Students will tell stories about their neighborhoods and create maps that document change. The end result is a better understanding of a map’s ability to demonstrate the history behind fixed points.

Grades 5–8
Lessons
The Science of Superpowers

by Mariama J. Lockington & Peter Calhoun Hall, 826NYC

Fantasy/SciFi
Informational
Poetry
STEM

In this superlesson, students isolate DNA, design planes, build lairs, and engineer safe transport to help a hero save the day. Students will also take technical notes and explore new forms of poetry.

Grades 6–10
Lessons
Looking Out the Window: A Place Memoir

by Aarti Monteiro, 826NYC

Memoir
Narrative

Emotions play a big role in how we remember places important to us. Students explore this notion by writing memoirs, using plot, dialogue, and description to bring their stories to life.

Grades 3–5
Lessons
Veggie Stories

By Jillian Wasick, 826 Valencia

Fantasy/SciFi
Narrative

In this lesson, students write vegetable-inspired superhero stories.

Grades 5–6
Lessons
Amazing Stories

by Nathalie Lagerfeld & Jill Carey, 826CHI

Fantasy/SciFi
Media
Narrative

Borrowing inspiration from out-of-this-world illustrations, students will create an amazing sci-fi story with a fantastical setting, realistic characters, and page-turning plot.

Grades 7–9
Lessons
Meet Your Protagonist!

by Ryan Harty, 826michigan

Narrative

By examining patterns in engaging published stories and applying a set of meaningful prompts, students will learn how to develop well-rounded characters that readers really care about.

Grades 5–6
Lessons
Misunderstood Monsters

by Lindsay Ringwald, 826LA

Fantasy/SciFi
Narrative

In this lesson, students will imagine a narrative in the form of a craigslist advertisement to showcase a typically scary monster as a down to earth creature.

Grades 5–6
Lessons
Build Your Own Treasure Hunt

by Neil Gordon, 826LA

Informational

Using precise, clear instructions, each student will create a treasure hunt document that provides clues for finding a treasure hidden in a location of their choosing.

Grades 6–7
Lessons
Infinite Recess

by Emily Clader & Daniel Reck, 826michigan

Fantasy/SciFi
Narrative
Poetry
STEM

Students will create infinite poems using fractals, imagine life on a doughnut, and speculate about a universe where time goes crazy. Along the way, they'll explore cool, new math facts and concepts.

Grades 1–5
Lessons
From a Friend
by Cartoon Network

by Nicolien Buholzer, 826LA

Narrative

In this lesson, students write letters to someone special and reflect on the impact of being kind towards others.

Grades 1–5
Lessons
Me…a Villain?
by Cartoon Network

by Nicolien Buholzer, 826LA

Fantasy/SciFi
Narrative

In this lesson, students consider the perspective of a villain they love to hate. They will create a compelling backstory for the character and write short stories from the villain’s point of view.

Grades 11–12
Lessons
The Great College Essay Project: Write Your Way In
by 826 National and Reach Higher

by Kyley Pulphus, 826 New Orleans

Narrative

This lesson supports college-bound students in writing compelling personal statements. Students will go from blank page to finished draft as they brainstorm, develop, and analyze personal statements.

Grades 6–12
Lessons
No Lab Coats Required: The Poetry Laboratory

by Katie Manning and Brandon Brown, 826LA

Poetry

Students enter The Poetry Laboratory, no lab coats required, and use methods of observation and playful strategies to embark on the process of writing poetry.

Grades 3–6
Lessons
Odes to Ordinary Objects

by Ashley Smith, 826 Valencia

Poetry

Students find gratitude all around as they thank ordinary objects in their lives in the form of an ode.

Grades 9–12
Lessons
Social Justice Poetry: Listening to the Trees

by Rebecca Darugar, 826NYC

Poetry

Students examine relationships between art, poetry, politics, and current events, and reflect on personal experiences while writing social justice poetry.

Grades 5–6
Lessons
Working Superheroes

by Jane Roschen, 826LA

Fantasy/SciFi
Informational
Media
Narrative

This lesson prompts students to explore the exciting range of things they can do when they grow up and highlights the importance of education, curiosity, and role models.

Grades 5–6
Lessons
Miracle Elixir: Inventing Potions to Cure Baldness and Other Things the World Needs Right Now

by Paris Hyun, 826LA

Informational
Persuasive

Students play the role of benevolent inventor. They identify and think critically about real world problems, and create an ingredients list and usage instructions for an elixir that fixes the problem.

Grades 7–12
Lessons
Where I’m From Poems

by 826 National

Poetry

Inspired by George Ella Lyon’s original poem, this lesson guides students through naming the people, places, and things that have shaped them.

Grades 1–6
Lessons
Heroes In the Community

by Rebecca Escoto and Cynthia Aguilar, 826LA

Informational
Narrative

Students will identify the characteristics of a hero, familiarize themselves with heroes in their own community, and write an explanatory piece identifying a hero in their community.

Grades 6–9
Lessons
Dramarama!

by Debra Mitchell, 826CHI

Media
Memoir
Narrative

Students become script detectives in this lesson, searching for the underlying structure of every play. Student then draw from memories to inspire original plays.

Grades 7–12
Lessons
Write With Pride: A LGBTQIA Writing Workshop

by Molly Sprayregen, 826CHI

Informational
Memoir
Narrative
Poetry

Over the course of this lesson, students produce memoirs, poems, and essays that explore what it means to be a member of the LGBTQIA community in America today.

Grades 8–12
Lessons
(Judge)mental Distortions

by Tim Campos, 826 New Orleans

Narrative

Through discussion, map-making, and writing, students will investigate the ways in which our knowledge of places is constructed and will uncover the ways that this knowledge is distorted by biases.

Grades 1–5
Lessons
Write for Inclusion Publishing Kit
by Cartoon Network

by 826 National and Cartoon Network

Narrative
Poetry

Students write two stories focused on the power of inclusion with this downloadable, printable, DIY publishing kit.

Grades 7–9
Lessons
Homestyle: Writing About the Place Where You Live

by Tom Molanphy, 826 Valencia

Informational
Narrative

Students will learn to see home in a fresh way, to walk through doors and open windows they never noticed, and to find the stories that home holds.

Grades 8–12
Lessons
You Can’t Mix Oil and Water

by Erin Ruane, 826 New Orleans

Informational
STEM

In this lesson, students are challenged to reevaluate the way water and land are represented on a map.

Grades 5–6
Lessons
Trading Lives: Be a Superhero (or a Wizard or a Vampire) for a Day

by Kim Adelman, 826LA

Fantasy/SciFi
Media
Narrative

In this lesson, students imagine trading lives with a fictional character for a day and write about the fantastic possibilities that would ensue.