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Writing letters to the editor


In this lesson, students will write brief opinion stories based on topics they see in a newspaper, students produce opinion stories expressing their thoughts. Students will examine copies of newspapers, looking for stories they have opinions about. Based on those topics, students will write short opinion pieces to share with the class. The class will review each piece and decide which ones to publish.

The Leadership module includes a resources page with links to high school newspaper policies from all over the United States.


  • Students will understand the importance of having a clear policy on what letters to the editor they will or will not accept.
  • Students will react to news stories by writing their own short opinion pieces.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.1a Introduce precise, knowledgeable claim(s), establish the significance of the claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and create an organization that logically sequences claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.


Two 50-minute class periods


Letter to the editor example

Copies of newspapers (professional or student; may use Internet to access online)

Handout: Letters to the Editor

Letter to the editor policies

Letter to the editor policy planning

Lesson step-by-step

1. Building background — 5 minutes

Distribute copies of the letter to the editor example. Have students read the principal’s letter to the newspaper, and then ask them what they would do if they received a similar letter. As you discuss, tell the class that printing the letter as-is without commenting on it is a good way to let everyone, not just the newspaper staff, have a voice in the newspaper. When newspapers regularly publish letters, they include not only critiques of the newspaper, but opinions on the issues they cover, or positive messages about good things going on in the community.

Define “letter to the editor” as a letter by a regular person they send to the newspaper to be published in the opinion section. People write these letters to express their opinions, and newspaper editors choose which ones to publish. Usually editors reserve the right to edit letters for length.

2. Newspaper search — 20  minutes

Next, put students into groups of 2-4 and give each group a newspaper to examine, or direct them to specific newspapers online. Have the groups go through the newspapers together and discuss the articles that hit on topics they agree or disagree with. When they finish, have them complete the worksheet with the headlines they have strong reactions to, identifying the type of story, details from the story that elicit student opinion, and what their opinion is. Students should react to three stories.

3. Plan and write — 20 minutes

Now have students choose one of those topics as their focus to write a letter to the editor. Students should look at the back of the handout: What is their main opinion on the topic they have chosen? Students should be able to state their main opinion in one sentence. Afterwards, they need to have a reason for their opinion. Why is their opinion the best one? Finally, have students list evidence that supports their reason.

4. Take home and bring back — 5 minutes

Directions: Write a 200-word letter to the editor about your opinion on the topic you chose. Be sure to include your main opinion, the reason for that opinion and evidence that backs up those reasons. Bring a typed copy of your letter to class tomorrow.

Day Two:

1. Editorial policies — 15 minutes

To reconnect from the previous day, ask each student what they chose to write about. Chances are some topics are more common than others, or more interesting to students than others. Ask students which topics seem most interesting, and how many letters on that topic they would want to read if they were reading the newspaper.

Discuss the reason for letters to the editor. While the writer is trying to persuade the readers, the newspaper prints them because they are often informative or interesting, and they give an idea of what people in the community are thinking.

Distribute copies of letter to the editor policies. As a class, brainstorm some good reasons an editor may have for choose not to run a letter.

Good reasons may include: Not enough room, already publishing letters on that topic with similar points of view, letter contains libel, letter is unsigned, letter promotes illegal activities, etc. Bad reasons may include: Disagreeing with the letter, disliking the person who wrote the letter, the letter is controversial, the letter is critical of the newspaper.

Connect this to today’s activity by informing students they will get a chance to play editors and will choose letters to print in their newspaper.

2. You be the editor — 30 minutes

Divide students into groups of four. Have them put their letters to the editor in a pile and pass them clockwise to the next group. Tell the group members to read each letter from the new group and decide which, if any, they would publish in their newspaper and why. After the groups have had about five minutes to read the letters, encourage them to make their decisions, and then pass the stories on to the next group, while starting a new group of stories.

3. Wrap up — 5 minutes

After the groups finish, ask each one to share which stories they chose to run in their newspaper and why. Have students turn in their own letters to the editor. (Follow-up could include having them send the letters to the high school or local newspaper.)



(1 point)


(3 points)


(5 points)

Total points

Argument and voice Student’s argument is unclear or indiscernible. Student’s argument is clearly stated but lacks appropriate tone (too casual, too forceful). Student concisely states opinion in direct, respectful manner. Argument is well-reasoned and logical.

____ / 5

Clarity, structure, grammar and punctuation Letter has three or more errors in grammar or punctuation. The argument lacks cohesion and a logical format. Facts are referenced without transitions. Letter has fewer than three errors in grammar or punctuation. The argument is clear but lacks transitions or a proper conclusion. Letter is free from grammatical errors and uses correct punctuation. The argument is clear and builds logically from a statement of opinion to supporting references, to a conclusion.

____ / 5

Factual examples Letter does not include facts to support the opinions expressed. Letter uses facts to back up opinions,  but they do not back/fit the argument. completely. Facts, accurately presented,  back up and directly support argument.

____ / 5

Total points

____ / 15