With a quick stick of a stamp, we’re off to see what happens to the mail once it leaves your mailbox. In this eight-minute electronic field trip for the primary grades, students meet a postal carrier, watch mail zip through the sorting machines at the post office, and learn about the different ways mail is delivered to different destinations by many different people.
By highlighting the role mail plays in our daily lives, this KET video field trip also reinforces the critical importance of communication in the functioning of a community and underscores the need for strong reading and writing skills. These web pages include ideas for building on these themes and tying the field trip to topics in language arts and social studies.
Grade Levels: 0-3
Resource Types: Video and Handouts
Electronic Field Trip to the Post Office
Behind-the-scenes visits with U.S. Postal Service personnel show how letters get from mailbox to post office to mailbox. This short film for students in the primary grades also emphasizes reading and writing skills and the importance of communication in our lives.
One week before the post office lesson, send each student in your class a postcard about what they are going to see. Below is some suggested text:
We are beginning our study of the U.S. Postal Service. Did you ever wonder what is behind the wall at the post office? Soon we will see a video that takes us behind that wall. We will find out what happens to your letter after you mail it. You will see mail on its amazing journey, with machines marking, postal workers sorting, and mail carriers making their deliveries.
Once the students have received their postcards …
- Lead a class discussion of these questions:
- Do you like receiving mail?
- What do you already know about the Postal Service?
- What questions do you have? (Write students’ questions on chart paper and post the list in the classroom.)
- Teach students the correct form for writing a friendly letter.
- Teach students the correct form for addressing an envelope. Remind them that adding the ZIP code helps mail move faster.
- Give each group of 4-5 students a cancelled letter and ask them to answer the following questions:
- Look at the postmark. What information does it give? (date, place, ZIP code, where and when the letter was sent)
- Find the stamp. Where is it located on the envelope? Take a look at the cancellation mark. Why does the post office cancel stamps?
- Locate the return address. Why is it important for a letter to have a return address?
- Look at the very bottom of the envelope. Is there a bar code there? (The bar code is a shorthand way of representing the ZIP code; it makes it easier for post office machines to sort letters.)
After viewing the video use the classroom activities to enrich and reinforce the learning experience.
Duplicate several copies of the Postal Service Glossary. (A special printer-friendly version of the glossary has been provided for this activity.) Cut apart the vocabulary words and definitions and put each set of words in a plastic baggie. Make an overhead transparency of the glossary page to use as a reference.
Reinforce the Postal Service vocabulary by having students work in groups of four to match words to their definitions. Have students tape or glue their words and definitions to construction paper.
Ask the student groups to check their work using the overhead transparency of the glossary page.
Discuss the students’ responses.
Fun with Stamps
Stamp collecting is one of the most popular hobbies in the world. Collectors of new or used stamps sometimes gather stamps by country or by theme. Stamp collecting is called philately (fill-AT-e-ly). Two websites with lots of information for beginning stamp collectors are:
- American Philatelic Society
- About Stamp Collecting from the United States Postal Service [click on “Buy Stamps and Shop.”]
Following are some classroom activities involving stamps.
Sort and Classify
Have students, parents, and other teachers save all of their cancelled stamps for several weeks. Cut them off the envelopes. Give each group of 4-5 students a pile of stamps to sort and classify according to an attribute of their choice (for example: living vs. non-living; a theme such as buildings, animals, or flowers; color; shape; cost). Remind students that every stamp they are given needs to be included.
Next, have students from another group analyze and guess the criteria used for the classification system of the stamps they are observing. Finally, have students make a chart showing the categories in their classification systems, then glue or tape stamps in the appropriate places on the chart.
Some students may want to start their own stamp collections. Have them soak used stamps for 10 minutes in warm water, then carefully separate the stamps from the envelope corners. Students may keep their stamps in ziplock bags or attach them by subject or cost in a notebook. They may want to collect stamps with a theme, such as buildings, famous people, animals, plants, or events in U.S. history.
More than 19 billion stamps were sold in the U.S. in 2014. Laid end to end, they would stretch around Earth 12 times!
MONEY: In early America, the cost of sending a letter depended on how far it traveled. Today, the cost of sending a letter depends on its weight. Use the Postal Service’s online Simplified Domestic Rates and Fees chart to calculate how much it would cost to mail letters weighing 2 oz., 5 oz., 10 oz., and 1/2 oz.
ARRAYS: You are given 12 rectangular stamps. What are all of the ways you can arrange them on a large envelope? (a strip 12 stamps long, two rows of 6 stamps each, 3X4, 4X3, 6X2, 1X12)
PROBLEM SOLVING WITH ADDITION: Stamps cost 2 cents, 3 cents, 5 cents, or 8 cents each. Emily wants to mail a letter needing 40 cents’ worth of stamps. What combinations of stamps could she buy to mail this letter?
GEOMETRY AND MEASUREMENT: Sam has a rectangular stamp that is 2 centimeters wide and 3 centimeters long. What is the perimeter of his stamp?
MULTIPLICATION: Adam bought a sheet of stamps with 5 stamps across each row and 6 down each column. How many stamps were on the sheet?
Design a Stamp
After taking a look at a variety of cancelled stamps, ask students which ones they like best and why. Talk about the subjects on the stamps. Let students know that artists and other people with creative ideas often design stamps, and now they will have the opportunity to design their own stamp.
Using letter-size copy paper as their template (turned landscape or portrait as needed), students should sketch their designs, then use crayons or colored pencils to add color. Students may share their stamp designs with the class or collaborate to make a display for the hallway or bulletin board.
Cards and Letters
The parts of a picture postcard include a picture on the front and a description of the picture on the back, along with a place for your message on the left and the address on the right. People often like to send greetings from their vacations by way of postcards.
COLLECTION: Some students might be interested in collecting used (cancelled) postcards from various parts of the state or country. As with stamp collecting, they may want to collect according to a theme.
CREATE: Give students a 3X5 index card as a postcard template. Think of the interesting features of your community. Does it have important or beautiful buildings? Parks? Historical sites? Have students create their own picture postcard using colored pencils or crayons. Divide the space on the blank side in half and write a message to a friend or relative on the left side. Add your name and address on the right side, put on a stamp, and mail your card.
The earliest known letter was a clay tablet in Babylonia 4,000 years ago!
THANK-YOU LETTERS: After teaching the correct format for friendly letters, have each student write a letter of thanks to someone in the school. Appoint classroom postal carriers to deliver the letters.
PEN PALS: Capitalizing on children’s love of receiving mail, this project involves two classes writing and exchanging letters. First, find a teaching colleague at the same grade level in another school who is willing to share in the project. Then teach your students the correct format for writing friendly letters. You will find that students’ voices come through very clearly in letter writing, especially in letters written over time and to an authentic audience.
Assign a topic for each exchange:
- a description of me and what I like
- my school and our school day
- my favorite books and why I like them
- games I like
- jobs I do at home
- my community (if the pen pals live in another community)
- my favorite subject at school
Understanding alternative perspectives and frames of reference is an important part of this project. Students might also enjoy creating and exchanging class “artifact boxes” containing items that tell about their school and community.
Social Studies Connections
Using our History of the U.S. Postal Service Timeline as a reference, create a timeline in the classroom and have students arrange individual events in the correct order. (You may want to use Timeliner software.)
The Pony Express delivered the mail through the Wild West beginning in 1848. Riders took eight days to travel the nearly 2,000-mile trail. Using books, Cobblestone magazine, and the U.S. Postal Service web site, have students research the Pony Express.
At various times and places in America, hot-air balloons, camels, dogsleds, ponies, reindeer, trains, stagecoaches, homing pigeons, steamboats, mules, airplanes, ships, rockets, cars, buses, trucks, and snowmobiles have delivered mail. How do you predict mail will be delivered in the future? Draw a picture of mail being delivered in this way.
Ask students to use various research tools to find the connection between each of these important people and the U.S. Postal Service:
- George Washington
- Benjamin Franklin
- Abraham Lincoln
- Harry Truman
(George Washington, our first president, wrote the first airmail letter. It traveled by balloon. Benjamin Franklin was the first U.S. postmaster general—the government official who heads the Postal Service. His picture was on the first U.S. postage stamp, and he was known as the “Father of the U.S. Postal Service.” Two U.S. postmasters general have gone on to serve as president: Abraham Lincoln and Harry Truman.)
Postal workers are community helpers.
- Draw a picture of a postal worker on the job.
- Explain how the postal worker is helping in the community.
- Student responds to both parts of the task and accurately and completely communicates an understanding of the work of the postal worker depicted in the drawing. Examples might be mail carrier (delivers the mail so that we can get letters, bills, and packages), mail sorter (sorts mail so that it can be delivered to the correct address), or postal clerk (weighs mail, sells stamps to pay for sending the mail).
- Student responds to both parts of the task and communicates clearly. The response may contain minor errors.
- Student responds to only one part of the task.
- Student’s response shows minimal understanding of the work of postal workers in the community.
Community helpers such as postal workers provide services to meet some needs and wants in our society.
- Identify two needs and/or wants met by postal workers as they serve our community.
- Describe each and explain how this service is important to our society.
- The response is complete and shows a strong understanding of the work of postal workers in helping members of our community to communicate. Examples of mail for communication might be letters to friends, business mail (advertising or bills), cards for special occasions, postcards to tell others about our travels, packages (gifts), or magazines. Postal workers may also provide help in emergencies.
- The response shows an understanding of ways in which postal workers provide for needs and wants in the community, but the response contains minor errors or misconceptions.
- The response shows a limited understanding and/or gives only one example of the ways in which postal workers provide for needs and wants in the community.
- The response shows a minimal understanding of the ways in which postal workers provide for needs and wants in the community.
Use these additional resources to expand the learning experience.
A special printer-friendly version of the glossary has also been provided.
address – the number, street, city, and ZIP code on a letter that tell postal workers where to deliver it
bar code – tiny black lines representing the numbers in the ZIP code, found on the bottom of some envelopes
collection box – a large blue metal box where people place letters to be sent. Postal workers collect this mail at regularly scheduled times.
facer-canceller – a machine that turns letters so they are all facing the same way, prints postmarks, and cancels the stamps on each envelope
hamper – a canvas basket used to collect and sort mail
mail – letters, postcards, ads, magazines, and packages delivered to a certain address
mail clerk – a postal worker who sorts mail, sells stamps, and weighs packages
postage stamp – a rectangular sticker that you attach to the upper right corner of an envelope to pay for sending the letter. Stamps cost different prices because some mail costs more to send. There are interesting pictures on some stamps, which many collectors like to save.
postal scales – a machine clerks use to weigh mail to find out how much it will cost to send
postcard – a rectangular piece of heavy paper that can be mailed without an envelope. Postcards are usually smaller than a letter-size piece of paper (3″ X 5″ and 4″ X 6″ are common sizes) and less expensive to mail than letters.
postmark – a round circle to the left of the stamp showing when and where the letter was mailed
post office – a U.S. government building where mail is sorted and stamps are sold. Most post offices have an American flag out front.
route – the streets or roads where a particular letter carrier delivers the mail every day
rural mail carriers – postal workers who deliver mail in the country. They drive their own cars and put mail into mailboxes along the road.
sectional distribution center – a large Postal Service building where mail is sorted for smaller post offices
uniform – special clothes worn by workers who do a particular job, members of a team, or other groups of people. Letter carriers and postal clerks wear blue uniforms.
ZIP (Zone Improvement Program) code – numbers representing a location for mail delivery. The first three numbers indicate the section of the country and state; the next two numbers indicate which post office serves the delivery address.
1639 First post office in America opened in Boston, Massachusetts.
1775 Benjamin Franklin named the first U.S. postmaster general.
1788 The Constitution gives Congress the right to establish post offices and post roads. The first postal rates are set. The cost for sending a letter to a destination within 450 miles is 25¢.
1832 First delivery of mail by railroad.
1847 The first postage stamps are printed: 5¢ for a Ben Franklin and 10¢ for a George Washington.
1860 The Pony Express begins carrying mail across the West.
1863 New postage rates are introduced, based on weight instead of distance.
1896 Rural Free Delivery begins. People living in rural areas no longer have to travel to a post office to pick up their mail.
1912 Parcel Post (package delivery) begins.
1950 Automatic letter sorters and facer-cancellers introduced.
1963 ZIP (Zoning Improvement Plan) codes are introduced. Before this innovation, each complete address had to be read during sorting.
1983 First barcodes printed on envelopes for more efficient mail sorting.
1993 National Postal Museum opens in Washington, DC.
Here are some books about letters, mail, and the postal service for primary students:
Ahlberg, Janet and Allen: The Jolly Postman and Other People’s Letters
Asch, F. and V. Vagin: Dear Brother
Bolick, Nancy. Mail Call! The History of the U.S. Postal Service
Bourgeois, Paulette and Kim LaFave: In My Neighborhood: Postal Workers
Brisson, Pat: Your Best Friend
Caseley, Judith: Dear Annie
Flanagan, Alice: Letter Carriers
Gibbons, Gail: The Post Office Book: Mail and How It Moves
Greene, Carol: At the Post Office
Harness, Cheryl: They’re Off! The Story of the Pony Express
Hedderwick, Mairi: Katie Morag Delivers the Mail
James, Simon: Dear Mr. Blueberry
Johnson, Jean: Postal Workers A to Z
Kroll, Steven: Pony Express!
Marshak, Samuel: Hail to Mail
Ready, Dee: Mail Carriers
Roth, Harold: First Class! The Postal System in Action
Rylant, Cynthia: Mr. Griggs’ Work
Skurzynski, Gloria: Here Comes the Mail
Williams, Vera: Stringbean’s Trip to the Shining Sea (postcards)
Ziegler, Sandra: A Visit to the Post Office