- Key Words: New Year's greetings and resolutions, goal setting, self-identity, letter writing
- Learner English Level: Beginner to advanced
- Learner Maturity Level: Children to adults
- Preparation Time: 30 to 60 minutes
- Materials: Stationary (envelope and letter-writing paper), postage stamp, art materials (optional)
An annual year-end activity in my classes has been the New Year's resolution letter. It is a "Dear Me" letter that students write to themselves, outlining their goals for the coming year. It may also include other personalized and season's greetings messages. The most intriguing aspect of the activity is the delivery of the letter. I hold onto the letters for an entire year, sending them out in the mail the following holiday season.
The students are quite surprised and excited to receive the letters in the mail. A year has passed and the letter-writing project is a faint memory. For many students, the letters serve to rekindle interest and motivation for English. The mere joy of receiving such an unconventional letter of reflection and encouragement seems to remind students that English language study is a unique and intriguing endeavor. It represents an English connection to the Japanese custom of writing and sending nengajou.
For higher level students, an in-depth analysis of goal-setting concepts can be a focus in connection with the activity. For example, the Internet is an excellent source of information on this focus. Simply search "goal setting" for goal-setting do's and don'ts lists and other discussions. Goal setting provides advanced students with an opportunity to reflect upon their progress over the year, and to formulate goals for the coming year—especially appropriate for this stage in their academic and personal growth.
Lower level English students can make similar connections but in simpler terms. As an example, see the form letter I provide below. For children, a simple holiday message provided for them to copy or a handout to be decorated may suffice. In addition, for teachers and managers of private language schools, the seasonal greeting is an excellent way to reconnect with students who may have discontinued lessons and to encourage them to try again.
Step 1: Collect stationary (envelope and paper sets) of various designs. I usually keep an eye out for sets of stationary on sale at department stores. It is fine to start simple with plain stationary. The students can readily create their own artwork. Alternatively, you could have each student bring in their own envelope and paper.
Step 2: As a New Year's resolution writing assignment, have students brainstorm their goals for the coming year. Give lots of examples on the board to help them get started. For advanced students, you might work on the format for letter writing, e.g., salutation, body, etc.
Figure 1. A simple form letter for basic to intermediate-level students
(address line 1)
(address line 2)
(address line 3)
(student art can go here)
Dear (insert own name here),
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! I hope 2004 was a good year for you. This year you wanted to:
(students list goals here)
Did you reach all of your goals? If you didn't, don't worry. 2005 is a new year. You can try again.
Best wishes for the new year,
(student signs here)
(student art can go here)
Step 3: Decorate the letter and envelope if it suits the interests of the group. I usually take out the art supplies and make this step optional. Some students do elaborate artwork at home.
Step 4: Work on addressing the letter in Romaji. Also, be sure to have the students bring in their own 80 yen stamp to cover the cost of postage. Or, inquire at this time if your school will allow you to send it through their mailing system (at their cost) a year later.
Step 5: Have each student put their letter in the envelope, check the address, and attach their stamp. But DO NOT seal the envelope yet. N.B.: Sometimes goal setting can include personal information. So, for the protection of privacy, you may allow students to fold their letter and staple it shut--just the letter, not the envelope. I always mention this option and several students always take it.
Step 6: Store the letters in a bundle for the entire year. Near the end of the year, write a standard letter to all of the students, reflecting on specific events of the year and anything else you might want to include. Insert a copy into each envelope.
Take a picture of the class holding their letters. Make copies of the photos to be inserted into the envelopes. If possible use a digital camera to reduce the cost of printing multiple copies.
Other envelope inserts are possible. Here is one example. Pass out templates for bookmarks. Have students design a bookmark. Collect and laminate them. Place a bookmark at random in each envelope. It serves as a "grab bag" present. Yet other "insert" possibilities: stickers, confetti of the type used in wedding invitations in the USA, sports/animation cards from other countries, etc. It is important to be mindful of staying within the weight limit of the 80 yen postage charge.
You may choose to send out the letters in mid-year, around the time Japanese traditionally send summer greeting cards. This allows students to make a mid-year progress check and to undertake necessary adjustments to achieve their goals. Of course, the wording of the letters would have to reflect a summer greeting rather than a New Year's greeting. This change is minimal. Finally, you could choose to send out the letters for Christmas, making the letter a Christmas and/or New Year's greeting. This would set it apart from the stack of nengajou that usually arrives in a bundle on or after New Years Day. Also, it would add a special focus to the cultural theme of Christmas.
The success of the project has been measured in the smiles and comments I receive upon arriving back on campus following the New Year's break. Even students who had taken a year's hiatus from English studies are sometimes motivated to sign up for my elective classes. The timing for the renewing of goals for English language endeavors is perfect for the start of the new year. It is all about keeping the connections.