Pen Pal Buddies!
- Participate in a friendship-building experience by writing and exchanging letters with a peer from another class
- Practice skills like respectful communication, curiosity, and perspective taking to understand and appreciate another person’s experiences, personality, and feelings
When students are given the opportunity to engage in a collaborative, meaningful, and purposeful letter-writing program with their peers, research shows an improvement in their academic performance (i.e., vocabulary and writing skills) as well as a greater sense of community and friendship between students. Educators should encourage students to practice self-awareness and kindness as they engage in a respectful back-and-forth conversation with their penpals, and perspective taking as they consider what they are learning about their new friends.
To learn more about these skills, and how they promote students’ healthy growth and the development of empathy, please check out our Empathy Framework.
Empatico offers an exciting opportunity for educators to connect their classrooms with other classes around the world. Once you have connected with another educator in the Empatico community, you can pair up your students as pen pals. This cross-cultural experience will enable students to share their stories, explore different perspectives, and make new friends in another community.
Empatico exchanges are most successful when educators plan and get to know each other beforehand. To do this, please schedule a video call to connect with your partner educator, and use this opportunity to share your goals for this experience, exchange helpful information about your students, and discuss how you will lead the pen pal exchange together. Our "Get to Know Your Partner Educator" resource provides suggested conversation prompts for your meeting.
- Coordinate with your partner educator to pair your students as penpal buddies. If you have different class sizes, some students may be excited to have multiple partners. Decide how students will exchange letters - for example, they might send their letters via email, or you can upload and share photos of students’ letters using Google Drive or Empatico’s built-in messaging feature.
Make sure to review the letters beforehand to ensure students are not sharing any personal information (e.g., their full names or addresses).
- Introduce the activity to students. You might say: “Has anyone received a letter or email from a friend? How did this make you feel? What was special about it? Now, imagine exchanging letters with a friend in our partner class. What would you write in it? What would you want them to send back? How can letters help us learn about each other and make our friendship grow?”
- Help students write their first letter. For younger students, consider using the “Pen Pal Letter” template. Students should start the letter by greeting their partner, then introduce themselves. Here are some additional details they might include:
• A fun fact about themselves, their class / school, or their community
• Some of their favorite things (e.g., hobbies, games, music, foods, TV shows, or books)
• What they are currently studying in school
• Something (or someone) they are grateful for
• A moment that brought them joy recently
Remind students to also include questions they have for their partner, such as:
• What do you like to do for fun?
• What is your favorite food?
• What is something that you are really good at?
• If you had a superpower, what would it be?
• If you owned a store or restaurant, what would you sell?
Along with their letter, students might include other artifacts, such as a self-portrait, puzzles, recipes, local newspaper articles, or artwork depicting the view outside their school window.
- Once students have exchanged their first letter, provide space for them to reflect on what they have learned about their peers, and how this experience has helped build or strengthen their friendship. Encourage them to find opportunities to relate to their penpal buddies, understand their experiences and feelings, and express appreciation for their partner’s unique identity.
- As students write their next letter, they might share about:
• A special place in their school or community, and why they appreciate it (e.g., a local landmark or fun place to visit)
• Their favorite holiday or festival, and how they celebrate it
• A new skill that they learned, or something that they accomplished
• Something they dream of doing in the future
• A typical day in their life
Remind students to continue including questions and comments for their partner, especially related to details they shared in their previous letters, to build their friendship and understanding of each other.
In their letters, students should also express excitement for any similarities they share in common with their partner, and anything they find particularly interesting or surprising about their new friend.
If students in both classes have individual devices (e.g., mobile phone, tablet, laptop, etc.)...
Use a platform such as Google Meet, Zoom, or Microsoft Teams which allows you to screen-share during a video call.
One educator should set up the Kahoot! game and share the code with students in both classes by following this tutorial about using Kahoot! in a remote learning environment, and share their screen so everyone can follow along.
If students in either class don’t have individual devices...
Follow the same instructions above, with one educator starting the game and sharing their screen so both classes can follow along.
Instead of students joining the game to answer the questions, they can hold up their fingers, call out their answer, or use a paper template to indicate their response.