Writing Partners for SSU Faculty

Writing Partners is a service-learning program that pairs SSU classes with 5th grade classes from low-income districts through fun and engaging letter exchanges during a semester-long period. At the end of the semester, the SSU class hosts a Culminating Event; a campus visit by the 5th grade class. By pairing together students through letter-writing, each writer learns how to engage an audience other than a teacher and think more critically about the ways in which they communicate through written language. If you are interested in having your students participate in this transformative program, please follow the steps outlined below.

Writing Partners Pedagogy:

Writing Partners gets students writing to audiences other than the teacher, to give them the opportunity, in a classroom setting, and to think about how writing affects others and helps to create and maintain relationships. Both students learn to write to a new audience, adapting their content and tone to their partner’s interests and needs. 

Having students then share their letters (and their partners’ letters) in class heightens class enthusiasm and provides for revision strategies and audience analysis skills to be practiced.

To ensure student commitment and meet the demands of academic rigor, we suggest evaluating students’ final letters according to a specific criteria. Suggested categories are: required content (which varies with each letter), audience and analysis, organization and development of ideas, transitions and comprehensiveness, length and format, attention to visual design, grammatical and mechanical correctness. 

6 Steps for Participating in Writing Partners

  1. Contact the CCE at cce@sonoma.edu to express your interest in participating. The CCE will connect you with an elementary school classroom and schedule a pre-term planning meeting.

  2. Attend Pre-term Meeting and Meet Partner Teacher:

    • Exchange contact information, school calendars, and student rosters with your partner teacher.

    • Compare calendars and identify areas of overlap. Agree upon dates and methods of exchanging letters, planning for 3-4 letter exchanges. Both you and your partner teacher should be willing to share transportation duties and arrange to swap letters accordingly.

    • Share pedagogical goals and class themes with each other. 

    • Decide which class will write initial letters and which teacher will assign partners.

    • Discuss with your partner teacher what you would like your classes to focus on. Whether you choose to have students discuss ongoing English projects or other class projects, explain readings or lessons to their partners in their own words, or detail issues of revision and style, part of each correspondence should have writing as its focus.

    • Discuss options for an end-of-semester celebration, or Culminating Event, that will allow the Writing Partners to meet. While this is not an essential component of the Writing Partners curriculum, we nonetheless want to encourage you to arrange for an opportunity for your writers to meet face-to-face with their very real audience and provide the elementary students with an opportunity to visit campus.

  3. Develop Course: Start planning the upcoming semester in order to determine how to integrate the Writing Partners program. 

    • Gather necessary materials for your class to start the semester prepared. 

    • Create a detailed syllabus/lesson plan with important dates. 

    • Exchange syllabi with your partner teacher.

  4. Introduce the Program to Students and Set Expectations:

    • Introduce students to the project and introduce a writing partners matching system. Emphasize their very important role as both authors and readers.

    • Set the ground rules. Students should not share contact information, including email addresses, social media, and phone numbers, or attempt to meet each other outside of class. Discourage the exchange of photographs, as we want this relationship to take place solely in writing. Clarify letter length and encourage students to use illustrations to adorn their letters.

    • Clarify for students the degree to which the Writing Partners assignments will count toward the students’ grade. We recommend that these be graded assignments with clear goals and evaluation criteria. Please visit our Writing Partners Curriculum Resources page for sample grading rubrics.

    • As a class, determine what is an appropriate tone and subject matter for the age group with which they will be corresponding with. Have students brainstorm about who they were and what they liked at that age. Discuss ways their experience differs from (and may be similar to) those of their partners.

    • Have students complete an interest and/or inspiration inventory (located in the Writing Partners Curriculum Resources guide) right away in preparation for writing or replying to their first letter. Emphasize the necessity for “because” statements to clarify with reasons our preferences. 

    • Have students draft initial letters integrating information from their interests and inspirations inventory.

  5. Implement the Program

    • Have a plan for letter writing ideas and prompts for each letter your students write. Prompt ideas can be found in the Writing Partners Curriculum Resources guide.

    • After each letter writing session, have students turn in their original letter and one copy of it, unsealed and unfolded. You will forward on the originals and use the copies to grade from. However, be sure to read all the letters before forwarding them to the younger students. Just in case something inappropriate or unwise gets said, however unwittingly, you will want to have the student revise his or her letter before sending it on. Many instructors require a rough draft (unadorned) to check for appropriateness, adherence to the assignment, and mechanics.

    • Begin letter exchanges on predetermined dates.

    • Maintain consistent communication with your partner teacher throughout the semester to ensure the program is meeting pedagogical goals for both classrooms and that all students are enjoying the exercise.

  6. Develop the Culminating Event. 

    • The CCE can help with booking space, sharing information and ideas, etc. 

    • Usually university instructors can get donations from the campus bookstore and/or the Athletic Department to create gift bags for the students to give to their partners.  Often, the university students will suggest places to take students on a tour and help arrange that tour.  You can come up with guessing games or other fun mechanisms for the partners to guess who their partners are. 

Please visit our page Writing Partners Planning & Logistics Outline for more information and a timeline that outlines you and your partner teacher’s responsibilities.

Additional Resources:

Writing Partners FAQ

Writing Partners Curriculum Resources

Writing Partners 6 Step Planning & Logistics Outline

cce@sonoma.edu is always available to support you.