Sleep and school start times: A school board letter-writing activity

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For the first half of my career, I didn’t cover sleep in Intro Psych. And then I noticed how sleep-deprived my students were. The research on the importance of sleep is pretty clear. Your Intro Psych textbook likely does a fine job covering the topic, so I’m not going to rehash it here.

In the February 2023 issue of Scientific American, the editors have written a short (and freely available) article on how adolescents tend to have a circadian rhythm set to a later sleep time and later waking time (Scientific American Editors, 2023). They write, “Despite decades of research, thousands of publications and clear science, schools in only a few states and the District of Columbia have pushed their start times to 8:30 A.M. on average, which researchers say is a compromise—a better time would be closer to 9 A.M.”

Here's a short writing activity that will help Intro Psych students learn more about the importance of sleep while also empowering them to make a difference.

For this assignment, read this short Scientific American article (Scientific American Editors, 2023).

Your task is to write a letter to a school board and superintendent encouraging them to shift the school start time to later in the morning. You do not have to send the letter, but if you feel like teenagers would benefit from the change, I hope you would send it.

Choose the school district. This may be the school district for the high school you graduated from or, for dual enrollment students, where you still attend. If you have children or other young relatives, you might choose their school district.

Do a little Internet research to get the mailing address and email address for the school board and superintendent for your chosen school district. Include this information at the top of your assignment.

Use the following format:

Dear [school district name] school board members and Superintendent [last name],

I am writing to encourage you to [be specific about what action you would like them to take.] [Note: If this is one of the few school districts that has made the change, use this opportunity to thank them.]

As a [student, alum, parent of a student, relative of a student] of this school district, this topic is particularly important to me.

[Next, share a personal story. It could be about your own struggles with sleep when in high school, or it could be about what you saw in your high school friends, or it could it be in what you see in your high school-attending relatives.]

The research on teenagers, sleep, and early school start times is clear. [Identify three to five points from the Scientific American article you read that you found to be particularly persuasive. List these as bullet points.]

  • [Important research information one]
  • [Important research information two]
  • [Important research information three]
  • [Important research information four (optional)]
  • [Important research information five (optional)]

Please [reiterate the action you’d like them to take from your first paragraph].

Thank you for your consideration,

[First name and last name]

Class of [year of graduation; or if writing to a relative’s school district, ‘In the interest of [first name of student], class of [year of anticipated graduation]]



Scientific American Editors. (2023, February). Let teenagers sleep. Scientific American, 328(2), 8–9.


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About the Author
Sue Frantz has taught psychology since 1992. She has served on several APA boards and committees, and was proud to serve the members of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology as their 2018 president. In 2013, she was the inaugural recipient of the APA award for Excellence in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at a Two-Year College or Campus. She received in 2016 the highest award for the teaching of psychology--the Charles L. Brewer Distinguished Teaching of Psychology Award. She presents nationally and internationally on the topics of educational technology and the pedagogy of psychology. She is co-author with Doug Bernstein and Steve Chew of Teaching Psychology: A Step-by-Step Guide, 3rd ed. and is co-author with Charles Stangor on Introduction to Psychology, 4.0.