IR Letter-Essay

Screen Shot 2015-05-09 at 12.18.15 PMWhat an incredible year of independent reading! As we come to the end of our year together, take a moment to reflect on your growth as a reader over the last ten months.

Don’t forget! Update your independent reading log and Goodreads account

I hope that during our independent reading endeavors that you rediscovered or affirmed the joys of reading for pleasure. And most of all, I hope that you continue to read for enjoyment next year and beyond.

Before the year ends, take some time to leave a “reading legacy” behind for other future 9th graders. Choose a title that you enjoyed the most, one that you would unequivocally, without a doubt, recommend to someone else. Then share your thoughts on this book in a well-developed letter-essay*. 

A letter-essay is a type of RAFT assignment in which you write to a specific person (thus, the “letter” part of the term letter-essay) and then reflect, analyze, and critique a text (thus, the “essay” part of the term). Each letter-essay should be typed and written as a personal, critical response to a book—in other words, not a series of paragraphs about a series of books, but a long look at one book that intrigues you. You should address your letter essay to a future reader of the book—for example, you could start with “Dear student of the future” (or something more clever).  To sum:

ROLE Yourself, as an awesome, interested, engaged reader
AUDIENCE Future students of Mrs. Ebarvia
FORM Letter (with essay-like qualities)
TOPIC Your response, analysis, reflection to one of your independent reading books this year, one that you would love to recommend!

Before you begin typing your letter, brainstorm all the things you know about and enjoyed/didn’t enjoy about your book.  Write down characters and memorable moments, moments that frustrated you, moments that made laugh. Try sentence openers (click here) to help you get thinking and writing. Go back and find a passage or two that really stood to you (perhaps one of your “quotes of the day”). Choose a chunk of text that you think shows something essential. In your letter-essay, quote—copy—the passage and write about what you think it shows about the book, the author, or your response to either.

What else to include? Tell about your experience as a reader of the book. Describe what you noticed about how the author wrote. Tell what you think the themes might be. Tell what surprised you. Pose your wonderings—our questions about the author, the characters, the structure, the voice, and yourself as a reader. Be aware that a good letter-essay is one that teaches you something you didn’t realize about the book, or yourself as a reader, before you wrote it.




Below is an example of a letter-essay I wrote about a book I recently finished, The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. As you can read in my letter-essay, I really enjoyed this one, and I think that many of you will, too.

More examples of letter-essays are also listed. Browse through and read each one so that you can get a sense of how analytical and personal each letter-essay can be.

DUE DATE:  Two typed copies are due on Wednesday, May 20 (note that this is change from the original due date).

NOTE: If you are writing your letter-essay on a book you have not yet finished, you may turn in your letter-essay by June 1. In order to take advantage of this extra time, please make sure to clear it with me first. A word of warning, however: only choose this extension if you can be absolutely sure that the book you’re reading is your favorite of this year. We will also be working on The Kite Runner for the rest of May, so any extra time to work on this will be limited.

* The concept of a letter-essay, as well as some of the samples shared here, has been borrowed and adapted from the work of Nancie Atwell, particularly from her book In the Middle.