Teaching Writing

It’s In The Mail! – Epistolary Poems: Prompts for Writing Outside


This resource is available to support place-based writing outside anytime of year and comes with related resources and age-level recommendations. Originally developed for Write Out (writeout.nwp.org).

“To send a letter is a good way to go somewhere without moving anything but your heart. ~Phyllis Theroux

Epistolary Poems come from the Latin word, ‘epistle,’ which means letter, so an epistolary poem is a poem that reads or otherwise resembles a letter.

In the videos below, you’ll be shown two beautiful and geologically significant landscapes by park rangers who will tell you about the timelines of these landscapes through history. Then they’ll ask you to write a postcard or a letter pertaining to these histories, and for the purpose of this lesson, we ask that you write those ‘letters’ in the form of poetry like this letter to N.Y. from Elizabeth Bishop.

Writing “Sparks”

Spark from Grand Canyon National Park – Write a letter (epistolary poem) about a landscape near you one million years in the future

Content focus: Grand Canyon Geologic Timeline
Age-level recommendations: All ages
Time: 4:42

Ranger Tarryn uses her outstretched arms to demonstrate the huge geologic timeline of the formation of the Grand Canyon National Park. Once she has you thinking in years of that scale, she prompts you to imagine what a landscape near you might be like one million years (!) from today and then write a letter (in the form of a poem) about it.

Spark from First State National Historical Park – Write a letter (epistolary poem) about how your ancestors lived off of the land before modern times

Content focus: The Lenape Peoples and how they moved around to live off the land
Age-level recommendations: All ages
Time: 4:31

Join Ranger Hugh in First State National Historical Park as he tells the story of the Lenape Peoples and how they moved from the hills in the cold months to the valleys in the warmer months in order to follow the food to live off of the land. He then asks you to imagine far back to when your ancestors–before they had grocery stores or neighborhood diners–also relied on the land for food, and to create a postcard with an image depicting this time on the front and a letter (in the form of a poem) describing what this time was like on the back.

Related resources

Below are related resources gathered to further support inquiry and exploration of this topic. If you have additional resources to recommend, please share them online via the hashtag #writeout

Poetry Foundation – Learning the Epistolary Poem

Wikipedia – Epistolary Poem

This post is part of the Poetry-powered Prompts for Writing Outside collection.