Type in ‘school pen-pals’ in Facebook search, and you’ll see just how in-demand school pen-pal partnerships are. It’s clear that many teachers are discovering their benefits.
Some students are naturally less enthusiastic about the writing part. To deal with this, I realised that the writing didn’t always have to be a letter. I encouraged some of my weaker kids to send pictures or write the lyrics of their favourite song instead. Less-enthusiastic kids loved it!
Looking to jump onboard the wave? We’ve put together this Ultimate Guide to School Pen-Pal Partnerships to help you on your way!
What’s Covered in this Guide?
In Part One of this guide, we will cover the basics of school partnerships, and meet school teacher Clodagh, who shares with us:
- Why to consider Partnering with a school
- How to find and make contact with a partner school
- How to sustain the partnership
- The benefits of a class partnership
Tempted to embark on the pen-pal journey? Or maybe you’re just considering it? We’ve everything you need to know, right here – so sit back, relax and enjoy!
P.S. Did you know, partnerships are even more fun with Beneylu School? Find out how to partner your school with the Beneylu School digital classroom here!
Let’s get started!
Introduction: What is a School Partnership?
A school or class partnership is an arrangement where two teachers and their classes in different schools (sometimes across the world from each other!) decide to make and maintain contact for an agreed period of time.
Students can write to each other and send gifts and photos to each other. Teachers can connect and keep in touch.
A school partnership opens the children’s minds up to the wider world and, as we’ll hear from Clodagh, our first contributor to the guide, can work wonders with improving written work!
How I went about Penpalling… and why you should, too!
by Clodagh McClean
To any teachers considering a school pen pal partnership, all I can say is, go for it!
My class partnered with a class in Ethiopia as part of a project on ‘The Lion King’ and Africa.
I decided to partner with a school while teaching a class that I found particularly difficult to motivate during writing lessons. We were learning about Africa – the food, the animals, the landscapes and the people.
A partnership with a school in Ethiopia was perfect! My class and I are proof that pen-pal partnerships can work wonders!
First off, here are my top reasons why you should consider starting a pen-pal program with your class:
- It’s a great incentive for children to write. They love the fact that they are getting to share things about themselves with children in a different school/country!
- Children take great pride in their work and are writing about themselves and their area and hobbies so they have plenty to say. It’s a great way to improve and encourage their reading and letter-writing skills.
- It gives children a great insight into other schools/countries. Up until now, your students only really know one school (the one they’re in). My students loved seeing pictures of their partner school in Ethiopia!
- It shows them the wider world. Even things as simple as the fact that their Ethiopian friends don’t get the option of school dinners was mind blowing for them. It really gives them a great insight to the wider world.
- It encourages international fellowship. I encouraged the children to share some of what they had been learning in school with their pen-pals. As Benjamin Franklin once said:
‘Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.’
And most surprisingly of all, it’ll inspire YOU! Writing was a subject I didn’t really enjoy in my school days and it’s what I find hardest to teach.
Yet this was a great way to get myself enthusiastic in order to motivate the children. I was just as excited to receive the package of letters as they were!
How to Find and Make Contact with a Partner School
For my class and me, I found a teacher who was currently teaching in Ethiopia through a contact.
I made contact with the teacher through email and my class wrote the initial letters telling their pen-pals all about themselves. The teacher in Ethiopia was brilliant.
There are so many ways to find and make contact with a potential partner school. For example:
Facebook is a brilliant network for teachers. I put my pen-pal request up on a few Facebook groups for teachers and people would tag their friends who were potentially interested.
Ask other teachers. Share your your intentions of starting up Pen-Pals with your teacher friends and colleagues, and you will find that someone knows someone that would be interested.
Google is your best friend! There are plenty of websites if you search ‘find a pen-pal’. You may even find that some classes could have put it up on their school blogs and you could come across it in a Google search.
After reading our initial letters, she paired each of my pupils with a pupil in her class that she could identify a common hobby or favourite band between!
How to Sustain your Partnership
The key to your pen-pal relationship is in the communication! To sustain your classroom partnership, remember to:
1. Keep in touch
I used to keep in contact with the class teacher over email and sometimes share our exchanges with my class. We exchanged pictures that the children took or projects that the children were doing.
This kept them in the loop while they waited for letters to arrive. You could also consider a Skype Session or Google Hangout if the time difference and school internet connection allows it.
On rare occasions, I even sent a voice note to the class teacher via WhatsApp of a new song or poem we had learned!
2. Maintain the Excitement
I kept a box visible in the classroom that the children could put pieces of work into throughout the term. When we received our letters, some children struggled to think of what to share and needed some prompts.
I would distribute the box’s contents which would really support my struggling writers. This box also kept our Pen-Pals on our mind while waiting for a reply.
3. Involve everyone
We kept the parents in the loop and encouraged them to speak about their pen-pals at home. The children were naturally very excited about being introduced to this idea.
4. Use technology
My partner teacher and I emailed over and back constantly, letting each other know when the packages had been sent or received. We also kept the other class updated via a link to our class blog.
We sent pictures of ourselves, sent drawings and pictures of our work. The children felt a personal connection to the Ethiopian class. It gave each child a sense of pride in their partner!
They each received their letters with answers to the questions they had asked which meant that everyone had to report back what they had found out and learned.
We created a display in the classroom where we displayed photos, pictures and children re-wrote some fun facts to display on the wall as well!
The Benefits of a Class Partnership
The benefits of the partnership were numerous!
- The children were always excited to receive their letters in the post and were always eager to write back and ask them more questions or tell them about something they learned in school.
- I also noticed a significant improvement in their handwriting. They were shocked at how neat their pals’ writing was and my pupils were eager to present their work to their best ability.
- Having spoken to my partner teacher, she advised me that her class loved learning about our country and our traditions. She also found it was a big help for her children’s English. She said they learned a lot of conversational language from speaking to the children.
In conclusion, I hope this has encouraged you to seriously consider penpalling! Mine was the first class in the school to get to write to a class in another country and they were very grateful for the opportunity.
They were always very excited when the secretary walked down with the package. It was absolutely worth it as I don’t think this level of excitement could have been created from any other aspects of writing!
Stay tuned for Part Two…
Stay tuned for Part Two of this Ultimate Guide in the next two weeks, where another teacher will share with us:
- How to sustain the partnership
- How to begin/design a pen-pal program for your classroom
- How to plan a project, trip or activities with your partner class
- Inviting Schools to join your partnership
In the mean time, click here to download this guide as a PDF!
P.S. from the editor: if you’re looking for a French class for a school partnership, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org – I’ll be delighted to help you!
See you then!