4th Grade Frenzy: April 2016
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April 8, 2016

Motivated to Write!

Did you ever think back to how you learned to write? For me it was in 7th Grade English class. My teacher, Ms. Kisella, was a stickler for grammar, gave new meaning to drill and repetition, and made us show text evidence long before it was a "thing." But the best experience I remember from that 7th-grade class was pen pals! Ms. Kisella got us pen pals, and I fell in love with writing! Over the course of the next few years, one pen pal led to many and before I knew it, I had 5 pen pals within the United States and 5 in foreign countries. I can honestly say that I learned to write by writing to pen pals!

Research has shown that children are more likely to develop writing skills when they have a real audience, and writing to peers provides the perfect audience. This year I was fortunate enough to connect with Kathie at Tried and True Teaching Tools. We discovered that not only were we from opposite sides of the country, but we were also both interested in letter writing for our kids. We implemented our pen pal exchange in just a few easy steps.


Thinking about giving pen pals a try? Here are a few ideas that may help you get started:

1. Connect with another teacher in the same grade level as you. In terms of safety, it's probably best to meet the other teacher in person such as at a conference.

2. Send home permission slips. I like to inform parents when our learning will take us beyond our schoolyard. (I had 100% participation this year!)

3. Match up students. We made a Google Doc for this. Don't worry about uneven numbers of students. Some kids will love to have 2 pen pals!

4. Get started! Have one class of kids introduce themselves and ask a few questions.

5. Mail letters through the good ol' U.S. mail.

6. Watch the excitement when the kids get their 1st letter! This excitement doesn't wane either. They are just as excited with every letter. When that big brown manilla envelope arrives, the kids rush from classmate to classmate to teacher sharing their letters and then immediately want to start writing back! It's such an amazing scene to watch.

7. Smile as you witness written language skills improving and "hear" both sets of kids refer to their new friends as BFFs!

Ironically, what I thought would be an idea to help my students develop writing skills, has turned into a learning experience in other curriculum areas as well. We refer to the United States map often. We have read about the California Gold Rush and discussed the differences in climate between the two states. We talk about our California friends almost daily. Just the other day, as we were beginning our school day at 8:30 a.m., I happened to mention that our California friends were still in bed because they were 3 hours behind us. Many students responded that they would be moving to California so that they could sleep in! Time for a mini-lesson on time zones! The pen pal experience has turned into so much more than I ever imagined. Kathie and I now communicate regularly. I am beginning to realize that not only did the kids get new friends, but I got a new friend too!

Do you have any experience with pen pals? Click on the button below to hear Kathie's take on our experience!