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A Letter to Sarah, Plain and Tall


Return to Better Letters: Lesson Plans for Teaching Letter Writing


Arts & Humanities

  • Language Arts
  • Literature
  • 3-5

  • 6-8

Brief Description

Patricia MacLachlans Sarah, Plain and Tall inspires students as they write a friendly letter to Sarah from the point of view of either Anna or Caleb.


Students will
  • listen as Sarah, Plain and Tall is read aloud.
  • discuss the feelings that Papa, Caleb, Anna, and Sarah must be feeling as the story progresses.
  • write a friendly letter to Sarah (with the friendly-letter rubric in mind).


Sarah, Plain and Tall, friendly, letter, MacLachlan, Newbery, point of view, prairie

Materials Needed

  • a copy of the book Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan
  • writing paper and pens/pencils

Lesson Plan

This lesson is inspired by Patricia MacLachlans novel, Sarah, Plain and Tall. Students hear the book -- which won the Newbery Medal in 1986 -- read loud and then write a friendly letter to Sarah from the point of view of Anna or Caleb.

Begin the lesson by reading aloud a chapter a day from Sarah, Plain and Tall. In the book, Papa, a widower, writes for a mail-order bride to live in their prairie home. Anna and Caleb are filled with hope and uncertainty as they wait for responses to Papas ad and, eventually, for the arrival of "Sarah, plain and tall. As you read aloud each chapter of the book, discuss with students how the characters feel.

Introduce this lesson when you get to the point in the story at which the children are anxiously awaiting Sarahs arrival. Talk about how Papa, Caleb, and Anna feel as they wait for the big day.

Review with students the friendly letter format. Encourage students to imagine that they are Caleb or Anna and ask them to write a letter to Sarah from the point of view of that character. In the letter, students should describe their lives and share their feelings about Sarahs arrival.

Optional Activities

  • Before students write their letters, provide them with one of the friendly-letter rubrics listed in the Assessment section below. Students should pay attention to what is expected as they work on their letters.
  • Before students write their letters, you might view the video version of Sarah, Plain and Tall -- up to the point where the students await Sarahs arrival. (Hallmark Hall of Fame produced a popular version of the story, starring Glenn Close and Christopher Walken.) View the balance of the video when you finish reading the book.
  • Instead of writing letters to Sarah, students might write letters that Papa could include with his own letter to a potential bride.
  • Instead of writing a letter from the point of view of Caleb or Anna, students might write from the point of view of Papa or Sarah.


Use or adapt one of the rubrics below to assess students adherence to the correct Format for a Friendly Letter.

Lesson Plan Source

Education World

Submitted By

Gary Hopkins

National Standards


See more language arts lessons from Education World.

Return to the letter-writing lesson plan page.

Originally published 9/27/2002
Last updated 03/17/2009