2020-Write Letters to THESE African-Americans

Students learn of and write letters to any one of these African-Americans.

If you haven’t already, I strongly urge you to read my post titled, Annual Meet THESE African Americans-Introduction. It explains the heart behind this series of writing lessons.

African, Hispanic and White Americans

*This post contains affiliate links.  For more information, see my disclosures here.*

Now for 2020!

About one year ago, I stumbled upon the book titled, “Five Brilliant Scientists”* by Linda Jones and read it to my two boys ages 6 and 5 at the time.

African-Americans picture of the book titled, "Five Brilliant Scientists."

My boys are always ready for a good book of any kind, fiction and non-fiction alike. From a very young age, their father has exposed them to documentaries of all kinds, documentaries about animals, cars, bridges, math, nature etc.

They eagerly waited for me to start reading about these African-American Scientists.

We took a couple of days to read through the entire book. After reading about each person, I gave the boys time to reflect on what they had just heard, comment and ask questions.

Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson

When we got to the end of the book and began reading about Dr. Shirley Jackson, I was the one that was intrigued and engaged!

I had never heard of Dr. Jackson before.

This book taught us that she attended all-Black Roosevelt High School in Washington D.C., earned straight A’s and graduated in 1964 with the highest grade average in her class. Then, she graduated with a degree in physics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1968. (p. 44)

In 1973, Shirley became the first Black woman at MIT to receive a Ph. D. She earned a doctorate degree in physics.

Dr. Shirley helped AT&T build circuits as well as design and build semiconductors. (p. 46).

For 4 years she served as the chairperson on the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Her job was to make sure nuclear power plants are safe. (p.47). She was the first Black person to do this. Currently, she serves as the President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York. (p.48)


As soon as I completed her chapter, I started rattling off to the boys, my own interest, comments and questions. In addition, I determined to present her a year later, for the 2020 Meet These African Americans.

Here are the letters that my own boys wrote to her last year.

Student letters to African-Americans
Age 5

Notice the combination of sight words and phonetic spelling. When writing, children spell familiar words correctly and then use phonetic spelling to write out new and bigger words. Phonetic spelling is when children write the letters that represent the sounds they hear in the word.

If you can’t read the phonetic spelling on lines 2-6 it reads:

I like to build! I like to do experiments. Did you do an experiment about bees when you were four? You are great!

Students letters to African-Americans age 6
Age 6

I enjoy writing this series of posts so much. It stretches me to go looking for people (that I’ve never heard of) who are impacting the world in a great way! What has amazed me each time, is that I stumble upon people who have lived, studied or worked here in North Carolina. That is always a big hit among the students that I work with.

Now, in addition to Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson, I’m also featuring:

Mario Jovan Shaw

This year, in my research, I learned of Mario Jovan Shaw and Donnel Baird. Mario was a 7th Grade teacher in Charlotte, NC for Teach for America. He later went on to to help create Profound Gentlemen, an organization that finds and trains black men to become teachers in urban communities. These teachers are also developed and supported to impact their own students in a positive way.

Donnel Baird

Donnel studied at Duke University and has since founded BlocPower. BlocPower is helping create energy efficiency in urban areas, causing small businesses, houses of worship and non-profit companies cut down on their energy costs.

Both of these African-American men were recipients of the Echoing Green Fellowship, another amazing organization that I had never heard of! Taking time to look for inspiring individuals is so much fun for me. Making my students aware of them, even more so!

Simone Biles

Lastly, with the 2020 summer Olympics coming up, I absolutely had to include dear Simone Biles in this post. I know I will have many little girls at my writing workshops and camps that will want to write her a letter!

As a little girl, I watched Mary Lou Retton complete a perfect 10 on the vault to win the women’s all around. I still remember the crowd roaring and get goosebumps even now as I recall the excitement surrounding such an accomplishment. Ever since then, I have eagerly awaited the summer Olympics and fervently sought out the women’s gymnastics events.

When researching Simone Biles, I learned she has a book out titled, “The Courage to Soar.”* The forward was actually written by Mary Lou Retton. All smiles here.

I find these amazing African-Americans to be hard-working, no excuse, strong, resilient heroes. I want to do my part to introduce them to young children today and create an opportunity for my students to initiate dialogue with them.

Even if our students don’t receive a response letter, the experience of learning and writing is still so valuable to their hearts and minds.

People You Know

Remember, while I’m featuring THESE 4 African-Americans, your students are not limited to these options. The following writing lesson can be used to reach out and write to ANY that your students are interested in.

Common Core State Standards

NOTE:  This lesson can address the following Common Core Standards:  CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.1.2.A, L.1.2.C, L.2.2.A, L.2.2.B, L.3.2.B


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

Tell the Story Line

  1. Tell the students the story line: “You’re going to write a letter to an African-American working in a profession that you admire.”


2. 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 5 Sections

  • Greeting and introduction
  • Your own interests
  • What you know (about the person you’re writing to)
  • Ask questions.
  • Conclusion

As mentioned in my writing prompts introduction:  K-1st Graders are encouraged to write 1 sentence for each section, 2nd Graders 2 sentences, 3rd Graders 3 sentences and so on.


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.

Date and Greeting
  1. Begin by writing the date on the first line on the right side of the page.
  2. Next, skip a line.
  3. Third, write the greeting on the 3rd line, left side (Dear Capital Letters and a comma).  Dear Mario Jovan Shaw,
  4. Fourth, skip a line again.

5. Fifth, 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.

Your Own Interests

6. Sixth, write about your own interests.

I love basketabll, drawing and math.  I like to draw animals best.  Right now, I’m learning multiplication in Math.  It’s my favorite subject!

What You Already Know

7. Seventh, write what you know about the person you’re writing to.

I know that you were a teacher in Charlotte, NC. Then, you started helping other black men become teachers. That is great!

Ask Questions

8. Eight, ask questions.  Sample questions could be:

Was teaching hard? What was your favorite subject in school? What do you like to do when you’re not working?  Do you have a favorite author? 


9. Lastly, write a conclusion that is positive. 

I’m so glad that you want to help make great teachers.  I am thinking about being a teacher when I grow up.  I would love to meet you one day!

Salutation and Name

10. Write the salutation under the body of the letter. 

Respectfully, Kindly, Sincerely,

11. Make sure to write your name UNDER the salutation.

Envelope and Stamp

envelope, stamp and pen for the letters to African-Americans

If possible, photo copy each child’s letter before they send it so they can have their own copy.

Complete an envelope.  Stick a stamp and send it away!

4 Bios

Print the Lesson


Correct the Paragraph       

Students correcting a paragraph of a letter to African-Americans

Spin a Punctuation: (#4 of our Top 5 Writing Games)

students writing exclamatory sentences

Smiley Face-using career names