“Trail Mail:” Developing Persuasive Writing

Think of a time when you had to persuade someone to do something or think a certain way.  What strategies did you use? Was it easy or difficult? Did you have to think about which examples or reasons were the most important?

Last week, I attended a fundraiser for a very special place in our district called the Living Materials Center. It houses small animals—including snakes, bearded dragons, frogs, rabbits, birds, chinchillas, turtles, ferrets, and hedgehogs for teachers to check out and bring to their classrooms. At the fundraiser, I set up a table for sharing all about the Iditarod and Iditarod Education. I had to convince people to not only take a flyer, but also that the Iditarod is important, that people should learn more and follow the race, that teachers should use Iditarod in their classrooms, and all kinds of other ideas! I really had to put my persuasive skills to use. 

My table is set up to persuade people about why the Iditarod is so important. Photo: K. Newmyer

This month, my lesson plan focuses on persuasive writing.  Every student from Kindergarten to 12th grade must grow their persuasive “toolbox.” Every day, adults use persuasive skills. Stating a claim and supporting it with facts, evidence, anecdotes, examples, and reasons is a skill that we use throughout our lives. There’s no better way to improve our ability to argue effectively than by writing about our favorite sled dog race!  I hope I am persuading you of how important this is!

One thing I love about persuasive writing is that it balances emotion and reason. Both are equally valid ways to persuade, but they must be used together. Other aspects of persuasive writing that I believe are important are that it encourages students to use their voice and to share their opinions, and to use a variety of evidence to support their claims. The lesson plan includes a list of suggested topics that my students helped create.

I recently asked my students, what is the most important part of the Iditarod? I received a wide variety of answers, some of which I had never thought of before. I asked them to justify their claims, and they gave me very compelling reasons.

So, what IS the most important part of the Iditarod? The dogs, of course! Or is it the drop bags? Or the Iditarod Air Force? The volunteers?  Maybe the most important part is teamwork, or fairness, or other core values that you teach and celebrate at your school.  Younger kids might persuade someone of their favorite sled dog book, or what they like most about the Iditarod.  

February is a very mail-heavy month, and fittingly so, because before snowmachines, the only way to get mail to remote communities in Alaska was by dogsled. Can you imagine living in the wilderness surrounded by snow, then hearing the whoosh and bark of a dog team that means your precious letters from loved ones have arrived? 

A Trail Mail envelope carried by dogsled in the 1978 Iditarod. Photo: Iditarod Media

February features the Musher Letter Writing Program as well as assembling Trail Mail from around the country for mushers to carry in their sleds as mandatory gear.  My students were excited to write letters to mushers and to choose who they wanted to write to.  I asked them to tell a little bit about our beautiful town, about their favorite sled dog book, and to write persuasively about what they believe is most important about the Iditarod. They could also write encouraging notes, too! Students learned how to address an envelope, fold their letters, and affix a stamp.  There is just something exciting about writing letters because they are tangible points of connectedness.

1978, Nome Kennel Club

Trail Mail has been a tradition–and an item of mandatory gear–since the very first Iditarod. Photo: Iditarod Media

Persuasive writing is a very important skill, and when combined with mail, makes a very engaging learning experience for students. I encourage you to incorporate this lesson into your Iditarod studies during February and March while the Jr. Iditarod and the Iditarod are in action. It’s a great way to let students think more deeply about this amazing and wonderful event.

Download the persuasive writing lesson here. What is your favorite part of the Iditarod and why? Email me at emailtheteacher@iditarod.com.