Things my students wrote: Love letters to strangers

Earlier this semester I was working with my students to craft class newspapers and quickly found that they had never really been taught to write concisely. They were used to writing long, flowery (read: bullshitty) prose that went on and on for days and days about very little.

At a loss for what to do I asked my old Wisconsin State Journal co-worker, George, what he would do to help explain writing compact news articles.

George suggested having them write love letters to strangers. He explained, “When I was learning Norwegian, I had difficulty writing because I was trying to translate in my head as I went along from English to Norwegian. I should have been simplifying everything, because the whole point of communication is to have someone understand your message. There is nothing worse than a misunderstood love letter. So I used it as an exercise in explaining to students that if you think of presenting your message in a foreign language, that is one way to keep it simple.”

So the next class I tasked my students with writing letters of endearment to a beautiful stranger on a park bench. The parameters were that it couldn’t be more than five sentences and it couldn’t be song lyrics or ripped from a movie or another piece of writing.

They looked at me like I was crazy.

“You really want us to write a love letter to a stranger?” they asked.

After some prodding though, I was given some … interesting results.

Some students didn’t seem to understand the assignment or else didn’t understand how to write a love letter without sounding like a creep at the bar. Several students wrote something along the lines of, “I love you. Give me your phone number.”

Others went old school and basically wrote, “Will you go out with me? Check yes or no.”

Others decided to go rogue and wrote to lost loves rather than strangers.

Others broke the no stealing rule (and apparently thought they were the only one clever enough to think to turn in a famous Chinese poem or sometime off a Pinterest board). I learned that the Chinese version of “roses are red, violets are blue” is “I love three things: the sun, the moon and you. The sun for day, the moon for night and you for forever.”

Here are some other random gems:

“When I meet you just like meet a double rainbow.”

“Do you like Titanic? Jack got it from me. Let’s jump.”

“Our meeting is doomed.”

“You so fashionable. Let’s get married.”

“Dear little lamb: You eyes like black hole. I hope cling to you forever.”

“You look like an angle.”

“I need to call my mom and told her I met an angle.” (We had to have a discussion about the different between angle and angel after those two).

“I’m a lonely bear. Are you a lonely bear?”

“I’m a better cook than my mom. Maybe also your mom.”

“I hope I fall down the stairs and into your life.”

“I have pizza and milk tea.”

“I fall in love with you when I first glare at you.”

And my personal favorite:

“If not me, then who?”


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