Throughout my childhood I was presented with the idea of having a pen friend/pal multiple times. However, I regret today that I cannot say that I have had one. Whether it was because (I thought) I was too busy for one or the idea just slipped my mind, I never took advantage of the opportunity. In my foreign language class in 6th grade, I was even given a list of places in other countries where I could contact to get a pen pal. I really wish now that I would have done that because I could have learned a great deal about another culture. I’ve never been to another country besides Canada, so it would have been cool to say that I at least had a foreign friend!
Not having a pen pal has made me think about the ways I could have benefited from having one and also about the different types of pen pals students could have.
Ways to Find Penpals
- Through your school district: some school districts may or may not have a system for setting up pen pals. I think that an easy pen pal idea would be to set up a system within your district, between different schools. As a teacher you may have friends or connections in other area schools that could get the process going.
- Facebook Groups: start or join a Facebook group for teachers to learn more about how to find a pen pal or to see if anyone in the group would be interested in being yours!
- Pen Pal Sites: make sure they are reputable and safe for students to use. Ask friends of family members if hey have any experience with penfriend sites or recommendations.
- School-wide Pen Pals: start a pen pal system between older and younger grades in the school.
- Get in touch with an old friend: students often have gone to summer camp, played on a team or lived in a different neighborhood where they may have left behind a friend that they wish to keep in touch with.
Benefits of Pen Friends
In school or as a way of keeping up with reading and writing over the summer, having a penfriend has many benefits. As the school year winds down, now is a great time to set up some extra-curricular writing that’s fun and social!
- Practice penmanship: learning how to write in cursive is a huge skill that students learn in elementary school. Writing letters regularly to pen pals would allow students to practice cursive writing and also regular print in general, without making them feel like they are practicing their skills. They might take more time trying to make sure their writing looks neat for the other person so they won’t realize that they are improving their own skills at the same time.
- Making friendships: One of the best things about having a pen friend is simply that you have a new friend! They can be similar or different to you and there is a feeling of excitement everyone gets from
- Bully Prevention: writing between older and younger students can help with bully prevention, especially when it comes to middle school. Friendships between 6th and 8th graders could prevent bullying while they are in middle school. Also, these students can offer each other advice about what they experience in their respective grade levels.
- Stamp/sticker collecting: many people who enjoy writing to pen pals collect stamps and stickers with their pen friends.
- Learning about another culture: learning about another culture through someone else that is actually living it is much more interesting and effective than learning it in school.
- Practice a foreign language: if a student is taking Spanish or French, it could be very beneficial for them to start having a pen friend with someone from Spain or France to practice learning that language. I took Spanish in high school and I think that that would have helped me retain the words and rules I learned in school.
- Practice formatting a letter/envelope: chance are, setting up a letter and/or envelope are being taught in school anyways, so this can be a great way for students to practice.
Things to Write in Your First Pen Friend Letter:
Everyone has unique and different interests and lifestyles. By having a pen pal, you have the opportunity to see if you have any interests in common with someone you’ve never met. Here are some things to tell them about yourself in your first letter. You can also ask your pen friends about these topics as well.
Tell them about…
- Your family
- Your favorite outfit/shoes/hairstyle
- Your favorite food or dish
- Your favorite sports that you like to play or watch
- Music; if you enjoy singing or playing an instrument. Or talk about your favorite band or singer.
- Any nicknames you may have and how you got it
- Your hobbies or things that you collect.
- Your dream job
Kids love to talk about themselves and their hobbies, so what better way than with a pen pal! To keep cost down you can exchanges emails – which has the added benefit of helping students with typing – or stick to the traditional snail mail. Either way, kids are engaged, motivated and curious! And if you are doing this over the Spring or Summer break, parents may be spared of the ever-popular moaning of, “I’m bored!”