When the Vanderbilt University Graduate Program put together a pilot pen pal program between graduate students and sixth graders, they didn’t know what to expect.
Would the graduate students, with their busy schedules, have time to connect with the 6th graders meaningfully?
Would they 6th graders relate to the graduate students in a way that inspired them?
Would everyone have fun?
It was a great success! Grad students looked for extra ways to stay engaged with their middle-school pen pals by sending the Pokemon Cards or little trinkets. At the end of the year, the university hosted the 110 sixth graders (up from 45!) and the group met together to talk and interact face-to-face for the first time.
Have you wondered about building a pen pal program into your curriculum, but aren’t sure if its worth it, if you have the time, or if the planning would be overwhelming?
Here are some unique ways to make pen pals in the classroom work for you and your students!
3. Try a 21st Century Option
Rather than forsaking the pen-and-paper letter, the 21st century pen pal builds on them with digital tools.
With these tools, you can not only have your students practice writing, but they can also practice typing, and further interact with their pen pals via skype or other Face Time options. Way to get the kids engaged!
2. Consider a Content Focus
Using an official service like PenPalSchools.com sets up the process for you. They link you up with classrooms all around the globe, and then teachers can collaborate on lessons together. Students get to learn in interactive, digital classrooms with pen pals from all over the world!
Its also a great way to teach your students internet safety and basic identity-protection practices.
1. Consider Classroom Pen Pals to be an Act of Peace
Paige Badgett, director of the School & Classroom Program at People to People International, believes that connecting students is the way towards world peace.
She says that when students see each other via Skype on the Smartboard, they notice the differences, but more than that- they notice the shared humanity. They notice the sameness, the connection between them.
And what do the teachers involved in these programs have to say?
“They tell me that collaborations like this are knocking down barriers of prejudice and building strong connections between their students. Giving students an authentic audience for their work is both a motivator and a source of engagement.”
And what could be better than that?
What has worked in your classroom? How do you like to help your students engage with the world around them?