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Brief Description

Students write letters to soldiers overseas with correct spelling, grammar, punctuation, and capitalization. Students learn three facts about the geography of the area where the pen pal is located and about the pen pal.



  • see that writing has a purpose;
  • communicate with others away from home and brighten the days of soldier stationed overseas;
  • learn how to conduct research about the geography and culture of a foreign country;
  • write well-focused, organized letters using correct writing conventions (spelling, grammar, capitalization, and punctuation);
  • write letters using the proper five-part form (address, greeting, body, closing, and signature);
  • learn about soldiers' lives.

Key Concepts

soldier, veteran, letter, letter writing, Memorial Day

Materials Needed

  • names and addresses of soldiers from your local community or nearby military bases; or information from national letter-writing programs such as Operation Enduring Response or Contribute USA/Varina Project. (Note: Project Dear Abby, which was a source of of soldiers' addresses for many years, is no longer in operation.)
  • library sources about the countries in which the soldiers are stationed
  • pens or pencils
  • writing paper
  • photos of the class (with approval)
  • envelopes
  • postage
  • a large world map
  • yarn
  • pushpins

Lesson Plan

Students experience the whole writing process through this letter-writing exercise. They also feel firsthand the impact of showing concern for the well-being of others. They understand the similarities and differences of cultures not their own. They learn why soldiers are away from home. That information clarifies how important it is to learn to resolve unnecessary conflicts among themselves and why schools practice conflict resolution as part of their social skills program. They learn that a little kindness shared with others raises self-esteem. Even though the students and soldiers might come from different backgrounds, they learn that an exercise such as this can help create a more harmonious, productive life for us all; that's an on-going life lesson.

  • Allow students to choose the name of a soldier to write to. Have students research the country in which the soldier is stationed.
  • Ask students to write three questions they would like the soldiers to answer. The questions might relate to the culture, economics, etc., of the country. Model ideas through mapping and demonstrating how to write meaningful questions. Have students share their ideas before writing to help ease "write fright." My kids enjoy this "show-and-tell" part! It helps them see they do have something to say.
  • Display and model the proper letter form for students to follow. Ask students to write a first draft of their letters. Letters must include the three questions.
  • Then have students peer-edit. Model for them how to politely edit another's work and to offer positive comments and feedback. Among the questions they might discuss with their peers are Did you use any of your spelling words? action words? interesting words? Direct students to tell what they liked about the letter (e.g., "I like the way you began your paragraph; it made me want to know more"), as well as to offer advice for improving it.
  • Suggest that students read their first drafts to the class to obtain more input, if they desire.
  • Collect students' drafts for editing.
  • Have students write their final drafts and share them with the class.
  • Model procedures for writing and addressing envelopes, and verify their accuracy. Suggest that students enclosed class pictures in their letters.
  • Mail the letters with appropriate postage.
  • As responses come in, have students track on a world map where the soldiers who responded are located. Use yarn to connect the letters and envelopes to the soldiers' locations; use pushpins to indicate the locations of soldiers who have yet to respond.

A Footnote: This was a wonderful experience for my third graders. We received letters from men and women and even a captain's crew (from the USNS Concord cruising around the Mediterranean) thanking us for thinking of them. Some of the children even received candy, gifts (one boy received a stuffed animal from Bosnia with the Bosnian words Greetings from Bosnia), postcards, foreign money, and expressions of gratitude I cannot describe.

Activity Time



Discuss the responses as they arrive. Evaluate students by having students write about what they learned, found interesting, or wondered about regarding the geography, culture, or the soldier.

Lesson Plan Source

Diane O'Malley, ([email protected]) West Hernando Middle School, Spring Hill, Florida

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