Alright, so you jumped into classroom pen pals this year. Your head may be spinning, but there is no need to worry. The hardest part is getting started. With this said, I’m here to share a few tricks on how to jump start your experience and get the most out of your connection! Keep reading for oodles of classroom pen pal ideas . . .
As stated above, getting going is the most difficult step. However, it’s pretty painless . . . promise! I have found the “kick start” pitfalls with my own pen pal experiences over the years. Here’s a handy dandy list to help YOU avoid some of the same mistakes.
- Parent Permission Slip – your school may or may not require a permission slip to interact with pals. However, in the words of Nike, I say . . . JUST DO IT! Cover your rear just in case you want to exchange photos or jump on a Skype or Google Hangout. By getting parent permission up front, you won’t be scrambling if and when you actually want something more visual to go down. Click the link to snag a ready made Pen Pal Parent Permission Slip. Different state, country, and school versions are included in the FREE download!
- Get Going Early – um, yeah . . . like get going RIGHT AWAY. This was pitfall number one for me! With this said, I strongly urge you to make contact within the first month of school. During my first few years on the pen pal circuit, I always felt super overwhelmed and many times I felt like my kiddos weren’t quite ready to write. So, I waited to draft that first letter. BIG MISTAKE! Before I knew it, we would be rolling into Halloween or even Thanksgiving and I was just starting the process. Although it still was great for the kiddos, I missed out on oodles of extra writing opportunities. (Keep reading to pick up a few classroom pen pal ideas that can help support kiddos who aren’t able to write solo early in the year!)
- Set a Schedule – talk with your partner and map out a plan. By no means do you have to write weekly or even monthly . . . that’s up to you and your classroom teacher match. However, making a loose plan with target dates helps a ton. It is so easy to skip right over letter writing when it isn’t planned. (Take it from someone who already failed in this department.)
A FEW WRITING IDEAS
Pen Pal correspondence doesn’t always have to be in the form of your regular old friendly letter. There are so many other ways you can use pals to encourage amazing writing.
- Shared – up a section, I noted that I didn’t always feel my students were ready to write letters on their own. This doesn’t have to be a hang up! Start with a shared write. It’s quick, super easy, and gets the ball rolling.
- Questionnaires – not ready to intro letter writing so early in the year? No problem. Start with a simple questionnaire. Students can easily share facts about themselves and a handful of their favorite things.
- Teacher-Guided – a teacher-guided write goes a LONG way in the pen pal department. Complete your own write under a doc camera and have your students follow along and insert their own information instead of yours. Think a clozed writing exercise 🙂
- Homework Connections – let’s face it . . . our days are jam-packed. Getting to letters isn’t always easy. With this said, why not assign a letter as a homework assignment every now and again? Not only does it tackle that school-to-home connection, but it gets ‘er done! (If you signed up for my pen pal newsletter, you will get this exclusive EDITABLE FREEBIE in a future email!)
- Other Writing Standards – pen pals have a way of encouraging students to write their hearts out. So, why not leverage this power and incorporate other writing standards throughout the year? I see amazing persuasive and/or opinion writes transpiring. And, just think about the cool peer editing opportunities for both expository and narrative pieces 🙂 The pen pal ideas are endless in this category!
- Get Techy – there are so many ways to connect via technology these days. From email and video conferencing to Google Classroom, the possibilities are vast. I am nearly finished with a DIGITAL PEN PAL packet that helps streamline these tech avenues with oodles of ready-made assignments and activities. Stay tuned . . .
In this final section, I am tossing a few things to think about when letters are finished. There is more than one way to exchange work these days!
- Don’t Wait – let me start with a quick tip. Hit the USPS as soon as those letters are finished. On more than one occasion, I would wait. Sadly, I would forget that the letters were riding around in my teacher bag. Weeks would pass 🙁
- Scan Away – a very smart educator brought this idea up a few years ago. Scanning handwritten letters totally works too! It saves on postage and gets the job done quickly. Teachers on the receiving end simply have to print out the letters for their kiddos. Although, I wouldn’t totally forgo the “snail mail” angle as students love to get real letters . . . this is a great occasional option in my book!
- Email – if your students have email accounts, cyber connections are a brilliant way to manage more frequent pen pal correspondence.
Alright, so there you have it. A post dedicated to a handful of useful pen pal ideas. If you are looking for additional classroom pen pal ideas and ready-made printable resources, check out my Pen Pal Friendly Letter Writing pack. It’s chock-full of friendly letter goodness. On that note, I am out. Thanks for taking the time to visit. Here’s to a year filled with wonderful writing experiences.