Editor letters, sampled

The text type 'Letter to the Editor' covers a vast, baggy range of approaches - rather like the text type 'Article', in fact. However, certain common, basic features can be observed, and these should be sufficient to guide how we teach (and examine) 'Letters to the Editor' for English B purposes.

The basis of this page consists of three Letters to the Editor. They all relate to an article published in the New York Times by a woman called Kimberly Probolus, arguing that men should listen more carefully to women. You can see the original article by going to the page  Why men should listen - the two pages are designed to be used in tandem, although you can of course use them independently.

(I call the original an 'article', as it is called elsewhere in the NYT, but actually it was published under 'Letters' - so what distinctions can we make between the two text types? Moot point...)

These are real Letters to the Editor... or rather, they are what really appeared in publication, since we know that such letters are very often edited for reasons of space, economy of means, etc. So, it is worthwhile analysing how they are structured, so as to extract guidelines for the students to follow. You will see that the exercise in the worksheet focuses on exactly such analysis.

However, this exercise raises a couple of tricky questions:

Will the examiners expect this restricted format, or will they expect a full formal letter format? I honestly can't say at present (in March 2020), because the detailed list of expected conventions for the text types has not yet been agreed between senior examiners. I believe and hope that this restricted format shown in these samples will become the new norm - but I am pretty certain that there would be no penalty for using a full formal letter format (with addresses, opening and closing salutations, etc).

  • So, the safe option, at present, is to tell students that they should use the full format.

These letters are short - but surely the English B Paper 1 (at HL, anyway) expects considerably more length? Indeed - at HL students are expected to write between 450 and 600 words, which is more than double the length of these examples. Well, yes... these letters are short, because letters that are short and clear have more chance of being published - but newspapers do publish longer letters if they think the length is worthwhile. And anyway, in the end students should do what the exam requires, whether or not the length is strictly 'realistic'. After all, how many e-mails run to as much as 450 words?

  • In short, tell them to follow the basic structural elements as shown in the 'structural analysis' exercise (see below) - but write at greater length, explaining each point in slightly more detail.

Anyway, here is the handout, with the texts...

.

The worksheet exercises

Here are the answers that I would expect.

Structural analysis

All three letters contain certain features which are normal or conventional in Letters to the Editor. Skim through the letters to work out what features they have in common. Then, in the chart below, fill in the three columns on the right, with Y (Yes) or N (No).

Conventions / Features

Letter A

Letter B

Letter C

Sender’s full address

N

N

N

Recipient’s full address

N

N

N

Salutations – ‘Dear Sir’ & ‘Yours sincerely’

N

N

N

Writer’s name, and home town

Y

Y

Y

Reference to original article / author

Y

Y

Y

Link to original article (online letter)

N

Y

N

Detailed summary of original article

N

N

N

Statement of letter-writer’s point of view

Y

Y

Y

Explanation of reasons for letter-writer’s point of view

Y

Y

Y

Proposal or recommendation

Y

Y

Y

Note that the elements in red are those that I think are the essential features that students should attempt to include - in whatever way: there can be nothing rigid about this kind of system.

Point of view / stance

The letters seem to have been selected to give a range of responses to the original article – whether for or against, to put it simply.

Skim the articles, and decide which letter’s point of view falls into the categories shown in the chart below - then fill in the three columns on the right, with Y (Yes) or N (No).

Point of view / stance

Letter A

Letter B

Letter C

Basically agrees with the original article

Y

Y? / N?

N

Basically disagrees with the original article

N

N

Y

Makes a balanced comment on the original article

N

Y

N

Some of the answers here are debatable (letter B, for instance) - so by all means debate with the students, requiring them to provide evidence from the text as to why they might make a different interpretation.

Emphasise as well the three basic approaches - 'agree' / 'disagree' / 'balanced comment' (usually 'agree, but...').

.

All materials on this website are for the exclusive use of teachers and students at subscribing schools for the period of their subscription. Any unauthorised copying or posting of materials on other websites is an infringement of our copyright and could result in your account being blocked and legal action being taken against you.