Writing Partners FAQ

This page contains information on the following topics:

Trouble-shooting & Logistics


Planning the Pedagogy

Deepening & Extending the Experience

Trouble-shooting & Logistics

What happens if my class isn’t the right size to match with another Writing  Partners class? 

Often the difference in class size is not great. When one class has one or two extra students, you may ask students in the smaller class to volunteer to write to more than one person throughout the  semester for extra credit or in exchange for a reduced assignment  elsewhere. When a class population changes mid-term, you can ask for a volunteer to take on another writing partner. 

What happens if one of my students does not remain enrolled in my  school/class?  

After you initially introduce the program to students, you need to let them know that occasionally a writing partner will move, drop out of school, or drop the class. It’s also possible that a student will be absent the day the two classes meet for the end-of-term celebration. Some partners may not have the chance to meet. This rarely happens, but it does happen. Refer to the above situation of mismatched class sizes for ideas about how to handle partners who cannot remain in the program.  

What sorts of things should I tell my students to refrain from writing about?  

This is such a hard topic to figure out as so many younger children now have access to films, books, and other entertainment (magazines, newspapers, internet) without much restriction. However, Writing Partners suggests the following guidelines:

  • For older partners: all older participants should pretend that all children have never seen an R-rated movie. 

  • For any age partner: University students and younger students should generally work within a G to PG-13 range. No last names should be offered; no phone numbers or email addresses should be exchanged; no social media information should be shared; no home addresses should be given. Generally, topics such as those that might be seen on prime-time television or that are discussed in age-appropriate literature should be okay.

  • Elementary & university teachers: Read every letter to ensure that the students are protected. If you encounter inappropriate information in a letter, please ask your student to delete that information or revise it so that it is acceptable. If you make appropriateness a topic of discussion during criteria and rubric creation, students will likely do fine.  

How do I avoid problems with liability?

  • Elementary teachers: Most schools have field trip forms that must be filled out and left in the care of the front office. You will need to check with your principal or department chair if you take your students off campus to ensure that you are doing everything you need to in order to make sure students are safe.  Note: the 5th grade teachers are responsible for arranging transportation to and from the university campus as well as completing any paperwork that corresponds to the school’s off-campus policy for students.

  • University teachers: Please make sure the partnering school is on the list of approved organizations. If not, please work with the CCE to begin the risk management process


What can I hope to see my students gain from this experience? 

The primary benefits of the Writing Partners program are:  

  • Students become more aware of audience and how to carefully, ethically, and effectively address audiences.  

  • Young students see that college is a possibility; they become connected to college culture in more than just a one-time, short term way.  

  • Students learn the format and function of the letter genre. They learn that letters help to build and maintain relationships, and move relationships forward.  

  • Students learn that writing has an effect, that what one says in writing does not occur in a vacuum.  

  • Students learn that writing has the power to help them make connections between communities. Students will also learn how to connect with others within their community and how this is an important responsibility.  

  • Many students avoid writing because they associate it only with hard work and punishment. Writing letters to other people in whom they are interested can help students to see that writing can be fun and rewarding. The positive experience of writing may make them more receptive to writing instruction of all kinds.  

What can I learn from having my students participate in this program?  

Because you ask your students to write to real audiences, you will learn with them the nuances of interpersonal communication. Your understanding of writer-audience interaction will be deepened by further exposure to the effects of the letter writing. 

Just as important, though, is the principle that underscores this program and is reinforced by participation in it: writing is a way of being in the world and letter writing is not only about interpersonal communication, but also about helping to shape one’s community.  

You will also often learn how capable the student writers in your class really are. Some who have found little joy in writing in the past may find this task more interesting and compelling because someone other than a teacher will read it.  

Planning the Pedagogy  

What does the sequence look like for a typical Writing Partners program?  

The Letter Exchange  

  • The younger students usually begin the correspondence by writing a letter to their partners based on the “interest inventory” (located in the Writing Partners Curriculum Resources). The elementary teachers can match their students to a university student randomly, or ask their partner teacher to assign elementary students to university students based on their interests. The number of letter exchanges is determined by partner teachers according  to their particular pedagogical needs and institutional constraints. How exchanges take place is also something the partner teachers decide upon based on what works for them. Classes generally exchange between three and four letters per semester.  

End-of-Term Celebration: Culminating Event 

  • Writing Partners strongly recommends that you have an end-of-term celebration in which the partners may meet one another and exchange a good-bye letter, another letter, or tokens of friendship (drawings, handmade cards, balloons, cookies, etc.). This can be as simple as a potluck visit in which a room on the college campus is reserved and students bring goodies to share with their partners. Usually, some formal  celebration of the work accomplished should be planned. Displays of letters or writing for the term are useful. An exchange of some remembrance from one class to another—a framed class photo, for instance—may be part of the celebration. A teacher may volunteer to emcee the event. In the past, some students in college classes have recorded video stories to share, created presentations to teach about the writing process, and designed customized campus tours. Contests and games can be part of the celebration with or without donated prizes. The celebration can be as elaborate or as simple as determined by the teachers and the administrators.

How do I know what to teach to get my students ready for writing letters?  

For younger partners: You may choose to use this opportunity to discuss the parts of the basic letter with brief explanations of the purpose of writing letters (to establish or maintain relationships— could be two reasons). You may want to find examples of young writers’ letters to use as models. For the youngest students, you may want to provide a form for the first letter. Essentially, a letter can be taught to children as a form a writer uses when they want to write a note to a friend to communicate and share information.  Many students (young and old) are familiar with writing notes to friends in school.  

The California State Standards require that 3rd graders learn to “Write personal and formal letters”; because of this particular standard, Writing Partners has been especially popular with 3rd grade classes. However, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade teachers in California have all found it to be a good review of that standard as well as excellent practice for the writing process itself. For example, by working with a basic writing process—drafting, revising, editing, publishing (or sending the letter in this case)—teachers will find ways to help students work through the letter writing process.  

For older partners: For college students, you may want to create a unit on teaching the history of the letter. You may choose to use this opportunity to instruct students in writing all kinds of letters such as cover letters, business letters, and query letters. The sort of text you teach from might range from a business/technical book to a collection of letters by famous authors or public figures. You may also wish to use examples from  a “letters to the editor” section in a magazine or newspaper. Another idea is to focus the letters on a particular topic related to the course. Please ensure students have access to as many sample letters  as possible.  

You determine what is required for the curriculum of the course you are teaching. This will largely determine for you what and how letter writing may be part of your course. Any work you and your students do with the writing process, though, with reference to the principles of rhetoric, acknowledgement of audience, and purpose, will help them become good letter writers. 

For any age partner: No matter the age of the writing partners you teach, instructors should guide them through the process by developing criteria and rubrics for every letter so that they know what  standard they are working toward and how they will be graded on their work.

How do I know when students should be writing letters?

You will work with your partner teacher to determine a schedule of letter exchange. In that schedule it’s best to leave at least a week before the exchange date to work on letters, longer for younger partners.  

What topics should my students write about?  

You may need to talk to your students (especially university students) about meeting the needs of their audience. There are certain topics not appropriate for these letters: the big party after the game, details of relationships, some details of family situations. This is the reason you read every letter before it leaves your campus—you must ensure that your students are not including information or asking questions that are inappropriate. What makes a topic inappropriate must be in part determined by your sound experience, the intelligence of your students, and your school’s rules for decorum when dealing with communities outside  the campus. If your students need inspiration or are having trouble coming up with topics for discussion, please refer them to the Writing Partners Curriculum Resources.  

When and how should I grade the letters?  

If you make copies of each letter (and you should), you can grade the copies at your leisure, but it’s best to grade them before they are in final draft form so that you can also screen for inappropriate language or information. You can determine a criteria list with your students about what should be included in each letter. From that, then, you can develop a rubric for grading. The lists and rubrics can be as simple or elaborate as you wish.  

Please refer to the Writing Partners Planning & Logistics Outline and the Writing Partners Curriculum Resources, particularly the Sample Grading Rubric for College Students, for more information.

How do I arrange for the letter exchanges?  

When you meet with your partner teacher well before the term begins you will make this determination together. In-person meetings at the elementary school campus are best if at all possible. University faculty should come prepared with a syllabus or general idea of topics or themes for the term to see what may dovetail. Both teachers should also have a calendar of your school’s holidays so you may determine which days won’t work for letter exchanges. You may choose to meet at a central location or you can arrange a drop off at each other’s department offices. The most convenient method for exchanging letters is usually the best.  

The Faculty Page, Teacher Page, and Writing Partners Planning & Logistics Outline provides more detailed information.

Deepening & Extending the Experience  

What if I have students who wish to continue writing letters to their partner after the program is completed?  

This is a matter for the parents or guardians of the younger student involved to decide. Many such relationships have taken off between a college student far from home and the family of a young writing partner. Some have regular holiday get-togethers or regularly exchange e-mails and letters. After the student is no longer a part of the Writing Partners program, it must be entirely up to the parents or guardians of the younger student to allow the exchange of information necessary in order to stay in touch. SSU cannot facilitate this process. 

Teachers should never give vital information about any students to anyone. If parents/guardians will allow the writing partnership to continue, they can attend the end-of-term celebration and facilitate information exchange.