“Ms. Angie, Zena Howard is my dad’s boss!”
I think this comment created the most memorable moment for me in my recent teaching career. This particular writing prompt was created to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy by celebrating current and admirable African American men and women that may not otherwise get noticed in the regular classroom.
If you haven’t yet read my annual Meet These African Americans Introduction that explains the heart behind these writing prompts, you can do so here.
This past summer we held an art and writing camp centered around the 2018 American Girl Doll, Luciana Vega, an 11 year old aspiring astronaut. The art camp focused on all things outerspace. The writing camp focused on Non-Fiction. Writing prompts included unique main ideas, compare and contrasts, comical captions, giggling glossaries AND personal letters to men and women working in STEM careers. (STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.)
I asked the campers which STEM jobs interested them. Engineering, Math and Architecture were some of their responses.
One little girl told me that her dad was an architect, so she wanted to write to an architect.
I went home and started searching for 2018 men and women in these fields.
Tiera and Myron Fletcher (aeronautical engineers) and Zena Howard (architect) were among the list.
I found out that Zena Howard works in Durham, NC. Living near Durham, NC ourselves, she became a chattering topic among some of my campers. That’s who they wanted to write to. (It was after my camper wrote the letter to Zena that she learned Ms. Howard was her dad’s boss!)
Then, I learned on a site called Thrive Global that Tiera and Myron Fletcher are a married couple working on the first rocket ship to go to Mars. Among their commendable degrees, Myron received his Master’s in Engineering Management at Duke University! Not only were my campers chattering about these new found heroes, but so was I! For about 2 weeks straight, I rattled off my exciting discoveries to closest friends and family. And now, I get to share them here!
Another fitting highlight to add to our bubbling enthusiasm for this particular week of camp was that Katherine Johnson was going to be turning 100 years old just days after our camp ended! Several girls wrote to her to wish her a happy birthday.
And last but not least, since teaching that summer camp, I learned of an inspiring NFL player Shaquem Griffin in CBN’s summer 2018 magazine. Griffin was selected by the Seattle Seahawks in the 2018 NFL draft, in spite of the fact that he only has one hand! I had to add this inspiring athlete to this writing prompt!
This lesson can be used to honor any local or national African American that your students know and admire. It’s not meant to be limited to career success. A letter can be written to a person of noble character in your local community just as well.
The lesson itself is also not limited to African-Americans or the STEM professions. It can be used to focus on any profession or any other people group.
In honor of Martin Luther King Jr., though, I’m posting the lesson to focus on African-American men and women.
To get a full understanding on how I conduct each writing lesson you may want to read the Writing Prompts Introduction post. The lesson outlined below (and all other prompts posted) will make more sense and be easier to follow and use. Here’s the lined paper I use for Grades K-2 and Grades 2-7
Now for the lesson!
- Tell the students the story line: “You’re going to write a letter to an African-American working in a profession that you admire.”
- Explain to them that asking questions is an integral part of letter writing. It expresses interest in the other person and also elicits a response letter for continued dialogue. Have the students think of questions they can ask the person in their letter.
- Show the five sections:
- Greeting and introduction.
- Tell your own interests.
- Tell what you know about the person you’re writing to.
- Ask questions.
Now to write!
Guide the students through the following steps so their letter is organized and complete. They are free to write these ideas in their own words. There are sample sentences in italics to help you along.
- Begin by writing the date on the first line on the right side of the page.
- Skip a line.
- Write the greeting on the 3rd line, left side (Dear Capital Letters and a comma). Dear Zena Howard,
- Skip a line.
- Write the introductory paragraph on the next line, left side. In your own words write a greeting and introduce yourself.
Hello! My name is__________. I’m in _____ Grade.
6. Write about your own interests.
I love gymnastics, drawing and math. I like to draw animals best. Right now, I’m learning multiplication in Math. It’s my favorite subject!
7. Write what you know about the person you’re writing to.
I know that you helped design the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC.
8. Ask questions. Sample questions could be:
What was your favorite subject in school? What do you like to do when you’re not working? Do you have a favorite author? Who do you admire?
9. Write a conclusion that is positive.
“I admire the work that you do. OR Thank you for the work that you do. I would love to meet you one day!”
10. Write the salutation under the body of the letter.
Respectfully, Kindly, Sincerely,
11. Write your name UNDER the salutation.
12. If possible, photo copy each child’s letter before they send it so they can have their own copy.
13. Complete an envelope. Stick a stamp and send it away!
Below are names and addresses of people you can introduce to your students for this lesson. If you use these names, please note the following:
- I don’t know that Katherine Johnson can receive mail through NASA, but that address was our best attempt.
- I believe Zena Howard will receive letters at the address below.
- I was only able to obtain an email address for Tiera and Myron Fletcher. They posted the following email on their Facebook page titled, Rocket With The Fletchers.
- Shaquem Griffin only has a Facebook page and Twitter account, so sending a letter directly to the Seattle Seahawks organization seems best.
NASA Headquarters, C/O Katherine Johnson, 300 E. Street SW, Suite 5R30
Washington, DC 20546
Zena Howard, Legacy Tower, 411 W Chapel Hill Street, Suite 200, Durham, NC 27701
Seattle Seahawks, C/O Shaquem Griffin, 12 Seahawks Way, Renton, WA 98056
Games that we played after this writing prompt were:
Smiley Man-using career names