Letter Exchange

Adapting the Text
Ongoing Activity
Grades 6–12
Language Arts, History
Pairs, Individual, Entire Class, Sharing Work, Writing


  • Students will have ongoing practice writing informal letters from one character to another from The Red Pony.
  • Students will learn to share their writing with others.
  • Through writing letters to characters in The Red Pony, students will gain a deeper understanding of various characters in the novel.


This is a fun and educational activity in which individual students choose a character from The Red Pony whom to write. All students will receive a letter in return from another character (penned by another student who, for the time being, remains anonymous) in the novel. This series of back-and-forth letters from one character to another is not only fun but will provide the students with a deeper understanding of the characters. Once letters are written, students will place them in a numbered/addressed envelope and drop them into a “classroom mailbox.” The mailbox will also be the place where students can pick up their “mail” to read responses. As the process continues, students will be very excited about picking up their mail.

Materials Needed/Preparation

  • Copies of The Red Pony
  • Writing paper
  • Envelopes
  • Cardboard classroom “mailbox”
  • Arrange time in the computer lab (if available) so students can write letters.
  • For unfinished letters, students may email themselves the document or place it on a USB flash drive.
  • Consider using the resources from Characters, Character Webs, and Identity Charts as advance organizers for this activity.

Estimated Time

  • This is an ongoing activity, and it is up to the teacher’s discretion to allot the time needed. Generally, the first letter should be written in class during one period.
  • For subsequent letters, teachers should allow a couple of days to pass so that each student will have time to respond to a letter and receive a new one.
  • For “mail pick-up,” teachers should allow a few minutes at the end of class so students can read their new mail.


  • Teachers should introduce the activity by explaining that students will be acting as a character in the novel and will be writing to another character.
  • Explain that this will be an ongoing exchange and that, at first, it will be an individual (and anonymous) activity.
  • First, teachers should secretly assign each student a unique number.
  • Teachers should also ask volunteers to construct and decorate the mailbox (perhaps at lunch or after school).
  • Once everyone has anonymously chosen a character and to whom that character will write, students may work on the first letter in class.
  • Teachers should emphasize that students, while they may be quite creative in their letters, must remain true to the spirit of the personality of their chosen characters and the situations that he or she might experience. For example, Billy Buck cannot suddenly have superpowers that turn Gabilan into an award-winning race horse, or Jody cannot be abducted by a buzzard to another planet.
  • In the first letter, students may relate their character’s experiences in The Red Pony and ask their letter recipient specific questions. Although letter writers may relate events that have not happened in The Red Pony, it is important that students make any “new” events realistic and in keeping with the spirit of the novel. However, animals (such as Gabilan, Doubletree Mutt, Old Easter, and Nellie) may write and receive letters.
  • Once the first letter is written, students will place it an envelope and address it with “To:” (for example, Jody), “From:” (for example, Billy), and their personalized number (for example, “17”). Then students will place letters in the mailbox.
  • Secretly, teachers need to retrieve each envelope and write the number of the student who will be receiving the letter. Teachers need to be careful to avoid having a letter, for example, from Jody addressed to Jody.
  • After the first letter exchange, teachers will pass out mail to students.
  • Students will reply to their mail. For all subsequent letters, students may line up at the mailbox and retrieve their mail based on the sender/receiver numbers.
  • After a few rounds of exchanges, teachers may reveal the “mystery writers.” The pairs then may read excerpts of their letter exchanges for the class.
  • The process can resume with new “To/From” characters and new numbers.

Post Activity/Takeaways/Follow-up


  • Students should have a greater insight into the characters they have been representing and the ones to whom they have been writing. This will reinforce what they have learned throughout the course of the novel.


  • Have students write an evaluation of the project and what they have learned.


  • Have students write a brief paper (in lieu of a class quiz, which is not practical) about their “To/From” characters in terms of what insights they have gained about the characters and the novel in general.
  • Ongoing, monitor the letters of students to ensure they are keeping within the procedural guidelines.
  • Take into consideration the writing abilities of individual students when grading a writing assignment.

Common Core State Standards Met

  • Reading Standards for Literature 6-12
  • ~Key Ideas and Details: 1, 2, 3
  • ~Craft and Structure: 4, 5, 6
  • ~Integration of Knowledge and Ideas: 9
  • ~Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity: 10
  • Writing Standards 6-12
  • ~Text Types and Purposes: 1, 2, 3
  • ~Production and Distribution of Writing: 4, 5, 6
  • ~Research to Build and Present Knowledge: 9
  • ~Range of Writing: 10
  • Speaking and Listening Standards 6-12
  • ~Comprehension and Collaboration: 1
  • Language Standards 6-12
  • ~Conventions of Standard English: 1, 2
  • ~Knowledge of Language: 3
  • ~Vocabulary Acquisition and Use: 4, 5, 6
  • Reading Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies 6-12
  • ~Key Ideas and Details: 1, 2
  • ~Craft and Structure: 4, 5
  • Writing Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects 6-12
  • ~Production and Distribution of Writing: 4, 5

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