Pen pals for young students? Many teachers find the experience to be disappointing. It can be difficult to find a partner school in another area of the country or the world. The pen pals don't always write back-some students get letters and some don't, and the ones that don't feel bad. It often takes so long to send and receive letters that, despite good intentions, the students may only communicate a few times a year, particularly if the pen pals live outside the United States.
However, teachers may wish to reconsider pen pals now that the Internet can make the process easier, quicker, and less expensive. All your students need is access to a computer that connects with the World Wide Web to become keypals with children around the world. Using a search engine, such as Excite, Lycos, or Yahoo!, you can locate organizations that match individuals or classrooms interested in communicating online. For example, St. Olaf's College in Minneapolis, Minnesota, will connect you and your students to other classrooms here or abroad, and has matched 19,000 students since 1992. Look for St. Olaf's Homepage at http://www.stolaf.edu/network/iecc/.
In addition, Schools on the Web can help you contact schools in every state and in an expanding list of countries across the globe. What a wonderful opportunity for children to discuss interests and hobbies, games, songs, and stories, not to mention geography, current events, and culture. Try its website at http://www.gsh.org/fetc/search.htm.
A variety of keypal relationships between individuals and/or groups is possible, including:
> A student contacts another student directly.
> A teacher contacts another teacher, and they match each of their students with a keypal.
> A representative of one school contacts another school to connect a number of classes.
> A class links websites with a partner school or with a buddy class. Partners can move back and forth between the conjoined websites by clicking on an icon. You can register your school or class website through the Web66 International School Website Registry at http://web66.coled.umn.edu/schools.html.
Once the keypal relationship is established, teachers will want to plan online activities that maximize student learning. The Schoolnet Teachers Primary Discussion Archive provides specific URLs for classroom projects and related curricular sites. Find the archive at http://victoria.schnet.edu.au/Hypermail/primary/.
Some possibilities for activities include:
> Children writing to each other individually.
> Children submitting their contributions to a group bulletin board.
> One class jointly dictating a group letter to another class. The teacher e-mails the letter to the partner class, which then replies. This method is especially appropriate for non-writers.
> Two classes working on similar projects and updating their partners on their progress.
> Two classes working together on a joint project(s).
Students are not the only ones who can benefit from keypals. Teachers can also connect with other educators around the world to share ideas and collaborate on projects. A comprehensive site that provides opportunities for a wide variety of cross-cultural learning experiences is SchoolWorld Internet Education at http://www.schoolworld.asn.au/.
Hook up your students (and yourself) with a keypal. Then share your successes with others. What a wonderful way to help young children learn about other states, countries, peoples, and cultures. Offered below is a limited collection of Internet sites that can be used to find national and international keypals, and to plan and carry out educational opportunities for classrooms of the 21st century.
Websites for Keypals
Students can contact other children in the United States and abroad:
Find a Keypal
KeyPal Club International
Kid's Space Connection
Mighty Media Keypals Club
Teachers can find keypals for their students:
E-mail Classroom Exchange
International E-mail Classroom Connections
Schools on the Web
Teachers can interact with teachers in other parts of the world:
TeachNet.com Keypals: K-2
Classroom projects and ideas:
Global Heinemann: Online projects and activities
Global School House projects and programs
Kidworld, from Tandem House
Michael Schofield's home page
Schools with specific keypal interests:
Bayview Glen, Don Mills, Ontario, Canada
Foreign schools looking for Israeli keypals
Irish schools on-line
Israeli schools looking for keypals
Oregon Episcopal, Portland, Oregon
Sister MacNamara School, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
About the Author
Colleen Finegan-Stoll teaches at Wright State University. She has conducted numerous workshops to help teachers use technology to make connections with other parts of the country and the world.