A few years ago a friend of mine, Ruth, contacted me with this crazy (BRILLIANT) idea – to have our students become pen pals. I know, you’re thinking, “That’s not crazy, in fact it’s not even a new idea.” Yeah, I know. You see, my friend lives, and teaches, in Spain – the Basque Country. Ah, now you see how cool this is.
Ruth had a group of ‘less than enthusiastic’ 6th graders. They had little desire to go to school let alone learn English. She thought if our classes became pen pals (yup, pretty much the old fashioned way), it would motivate them AND get them to practice reading and writing in English. She started it off with her students writing letters on a computer. We shared a Dropbox folder (I said pretty much the old fashioned way) to ‘deliver’ the letters. The result, it worked so well, the next year her students asked when they would get to write to kids in America.
Admittedly, Ruth and I thought it would be a one-off sort of thing that first year. However, last year when she asked if I was interested I couldn’t wait to get it going again. Last year we upped it to 50 students on my side and around 40 on hers. The students shared about themselves and figured out how to take photos on the computer to share on their letters.
Ruth and I upped our game! Okay, it was all Ruth. She is at a new school and she quickly realized that writing to us in English would be a struggle. We had discussed the idea of videos before, but she was up against some rules preventing images of the students from appearing online. So this year, we are sending videos! We are sharing our videos privately. Yesterday, we received our first video from our pen pals. The students were FANTASTIC! Ruth relayed a story about a girl in her class who was so excited, went onto Google Translate to help her get started. The student did all this on her own time! What a great activity this is already turning out to be.
Her students hard work was noticed. My students were impressed with their efforts. They asked if the Basque students were reading from something, because they wanted to be able to read from their notes too. I think they realized how scary the whole thing can be. They were so excited to get started on making a video for them some didn’t even wait for their video to be over before they started asking me when we can start.
Many of my students speak Spanish at home and asked if they could speak Spanish in their video. I said that they absolutely could. I even challenged some of my non-Spanish speakers to learn a few things to say in Spanish. Upon hearing that, a few students went onto Google Translate, while others volunteered to help translate for students. So my students will introduce themselves, in English, and hopefully send an additional message along, in Spanish.
I’m excited to see where this leads.