Family Resources on Advice Column, Part 1
Project and Purpose
Students analyze advice column letters and advice responses as basis for writing their own letters. They will then select a letter that is not their own and write an advice response.
What is the benefit of writing an anonymous letter to a columnist for advice? Explain your answer.
Note: This is part 1 of a two-part lesson. Students should be familiar with letter writing.
If this lesson was used in the classroom: Students learned about how to state a problem that someone might face and how to ask for advice in solving that problem. In class students used the format of writing to an advice columnist as a way to seek assistance for a problem.
Getting Ready for the Conversation
Everyone deals with problems and obstacles that they must face throughout life, but for many people it is difficult to state a problem or ask for advice (or both). Students who learn how to communicate problems and offer solutions will be able to develop stronger relationships with others.
Conversation Starters and Practice at Home
The first item is for follow-up after participating in class activities.
Explain the problem you wrote about asking for advice. Why did you choose this problem? What other problems did you consider?
Why do you think it is important to learn how to ask for advice?
Why would some people find it helpful to seek advice anonymously?
Is it a good idea to reflect on and write out a problem before asking for assistance? Why or why not?
School to Home Resources on Advice Column, Part 1
- Copies or slides of advice column examples (See PDF Lesson)
- 2-3 Large chart papers with title “Letter Topics” posted in different areas of the room
- Post-it notes and writing tools
- Paper or computers with writing programs and access to printers
1. Ask students if they have ever read or heard about advice columns. Explain that historically, advice columns were found in newspapers. People would write in with their problems and the columnist would do some research and respond. The most famous advice columnists have been Abigail Van Buren of “Dear Abby,” Ann Landers of “Dear Ann Landers,” Judith Martin of “Miss Manners,” and George W. Crane of “The Worry Clinic.” In England, newspapers had “agony columns,” and people would write to “Agony Aunts” or “Agony Uncles” about their personal despair or love loss. Now advice columns appear on the Internet and are targeted to specific groups, including young people.
2. Show the examples of Dear Abby and Dr. Web and ask students to make observations about what the letters and responses have in common.
a. Students should notice that the letters usually:
- Identify the writer’s age and sometimes gender
- Identify the problem
- Usually use a pseudonym for the person who is causing the problem or just refer to them as “a boy” or “a girl;” they never use real names
- Tell a brief story to illustrate the problem
- Ask for specific advice
- Use a signature that is either anonymous or just a first name and an age; sometimes the problem that is being expressed is used to create anonymous and/or clever signatures
b. Students should notice the advice letters usually:
- Restate the problem
- Offer a personal connection
- Analyze the problem, including identifying what is going right and what is going wrong with the situation the writer described
- Give some research or context to the problem
- Offer one or two pieces of positive advice
3. Ask students to think about problems or challenges or issues that kids their age have every day. Give or ask for several examples. These might include: dealing with people who are mean, wanting a boyfriend/girlfriend, wanting to break up with a boyfriend/girlfriend, too much homework, not understanding schoolwork, etc.
4. Distribute 2-3 Post-it notes to each student and tell them to write one problem with a few details on it, but not to use specific names. In other words, if they want to talk about the person who constantly teases them in the lunchroom, then write, “This one person always teases me in the lunchroom by calling me Four-eyes.” If they want to talk about a specific boy/girlfriend, then write “There is a boy/girl who likes my boy/girlfriend and always flirts with them when I’m there.” These will be the basis for a full letter to an advice column, but they don’t have to write the entire letter on the Post-it, only the kernel of the problem. If students struggle with writing anything personal, ask them to write about an issue they have observed in the school, their neighborhood, or in their community that concerns them. This process should take no longer than five minutes.
5. Have students post their concerns Post-it notes on the Letter Topic charts and read the notes aloud OR have students peruse the charts in small groups.
6. Ask students to select one of the Post-it notes that is not their own from the chart. They will “flush out” the ideas and write a “Dear…” letter to an advice columnist that follows the format of the examples.
7. Have students write the letter and collect them for the next session.
Ask students to discuss: What is the benefit of writing an anonymous letter to a columnist for advice?