My strategy for getting students writing letters to the next mayor of NYC began with having them focus on the issue that was most important to them. As residents of the Bronx, they had many things to say about stereotypes about living in the Bronx, but also the realities.
Students tend to prefer the creative route, so I used this natural tendency to begin. We were reading and writing poetry and I asked students to think about poetry in the world. We read example letters to the editor to read about how the general public writes an open letter. I had students look at the types of topics, the use of voice, style, and so on. This helped students to see just how people get their voices out into the world.
To have students begin their own writing about issues, I first asked them to brainstorm issues in their lives and/or their communities that were important to them. After that, I asked them to choose the issue that was, to them, the most meaningful. For the next step, students wrote poems about the one issue that stood out to them. To bridge genres--from writing poems to writing letters--as a class, we discussed how these issues could be addressed and by whom. In discussing who could make a difference in addressing their issues directly, I discussed the next mayoral race in NYC. Students visited the websites of the potential mayors, read about their issues and selected a mayor/issue who does or does not focus on their issue. After which, they wrote a poem about their issue. This step was meant to help them really get their emotions out about their issue and share these with the class. Later steps took students deep into the writing process of brainstorming the details about their issue, creating an outline (of what they want to say first, second and third), writing multiple drafts, share their writing, revise their writing, post on Youth Voices, comment on their work and further revise.
One thing I would do differently is to have students read more models of letters to different kinds of audiences.