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Modern Day Penpals

posted Jul 14, 2014, 6:33 AM by Cori Frede
Do you remember when we were younger and waited weeks to receive a letter from out pen pals? Pen pals are a great way for classroom students to learn about different cultures from around the world or even just across town. I remember that when I was student teaching, myself and a classmate arranged for our students to be pen pals. Although they only lived a few towns over, the students lived completely different lifestyles and found it interesting to learn about their peers. Now imagine that instead of passing letters across a few miles, we expanded the distance. Students in New York can have pen pals in Australia. Students in London can have pen pals from Florida.

If your goal is to help your students practice proper letter formatting and handwriting, you can continue using the old fashion letter writing methods and then scan the letters into a PDF file to send the other teacher. For those teachers ready to embrace the Internet, students can write direct emails to their pen pals. 

A fun twist on the pen pals is to begin with a Mystery Hangout. There are a few variations on the concept, but the main idea is that two classes play twenty questions to determine the location of the opposite class. Once the classes meet each other over a hangout, the students can be assigned their pen pal. Weekly email correspondence may result is a monthly video chat. 

If you don't already have a connection with a teacher in a different region, a quick search on Google will find you many sources. Personally, I would start with the Mystery Hangout Community on Google+. This community consists of teachers from around the globe with a similar goal as your own.

Depending on the age of your students, I recommend getting permission slips signed to acknowledge the use of email and video conferencing by the students. They cannot be 100% monitored and therefore the extra precaution is necessary. For teachers planning to use technology often during the school year, a generic permission slip might be a smart idea at the beginning of the year. I have one posted in the resources section of this site for your convenience. 

The following notice was originally posted on The Teachers Corner. It's an important statement that requires repeating.
Remember: penpals are intrinsically strangers, and the anonymity of the internet can provide an ideal environment for scammers. Please use due diligence when making a penpal connection.

Common Core Standards
This lesson can be adapted for many grade levels based on the complexity of your assignments. This assignment can fit and be used with a variety of standards. This is just a small sampling of the Common Core 8th Grade standards for reference purposes.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.8 - Distinguish among fact, opinion, and reasoned judgment in a text.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.7 - Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.4 - Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.6 - Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and present the relationships between information and ideas clearly and efficiently.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.10 - Write routinely over extended time frames (time for reflection and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.

Work Cited
  1. English Language Arts Standards. (n.d.). Common Core State Standards Initiative. Retrieved July 14, 2014, from http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/

    Mystery Hangout. (n.d.). Community - Google+. Retrieved July 14, 2014, from https://plus.google.com/communities/110369120141935358658

    School Pen Pals & Key Pals. (n.d.). The Teachers Corner. Retrieved July 14, 2014, from http://www.theteacherscorner.net/penpals/