Bishop 2nd and 3rd graders have been exchanging letters with Vargas 2nd and 3rd graders during the school year. In late May, students had the opportunity to meet their pen pals at Vargas Elementary. Students ate lunch with their pen pals, played games, and shared memories of their year of exchanging letters with each other. Receiving letters and meeting their pen pal are activities the students anticipate all year long. Students ask constantly, “When are we going to receive a letter from our pen pals?” The day spent with their pen pal did not disappoint. It was an excellent culminating learning activity.
“When students read their letters from their pen pals, their eyes are full of delight and curiosity. I especially enjoy our students having pen pals because it allows them to apply their own life to an academic skill. It’s fun writing a letter when you know it is going to a real person, who is your age, with some of your similar interests and abilities. It removes the anxiety of writing to an adult, for instance, and allows the students to enjoy practicing a friendly letter rather than worrying about it,” reports Molly Mazzella, 3rd grade teacher at Vargas.
Although letter writing is not a format specified in current Common Core state standards, letter writing and keeping a pen pal is an authentic task that ignites an interest in writing with meaning, which is an important objective of the newly adopted standards. In addition, authors who have awareness of the intended audience can formulate a message the reader can understand. The content of many of the letters exchanged between Vargas and Bishop students included narratives with details that described actions, thoughts and feelings with strong closing sentences. The letter exchanges provided extended practice of skills taught in the classroom (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.3.3). The Bishop and Vargas teachers who participated in pen pal letter exchanges all agree that the activity was worthwhile and improved their students’ writing skills in an authentic and engaging way.
Article by Theresa Ballin, 3rd Grade Teacher/Bishop Elementary School