By Maysen Linscomb
The idea for a Pen Pals activity came to me before I even left the USA. I felt that it would be a great opportunity for both kids in my hometown and kids in China to really get a feel of both cultures in a unique and exciting way.
The first step was to pitch the idea to my DoS, Simon. Once Simon had given me the go ahead, I emailed my old elementary school to see if they would like to join this project. I was then put into contact with Elyse Dion, one of the fifth grade English teachers. She was able to send me pictures of the students as well as complete any paperwork that needed to be done on her side, i.e. permission slips from parents.
From there I started to put a lesson plan and a PPT together along with a model letter. The model letter was made as a template to be used by students who had trouble creating a letter on their own. It was also formatted in such a way that students could have the structures needed for writing a letter, i.e. ‘Dear…’ ‘yours truly’. Also included in the template were generic questions the students could add to their letter, i.e. ‘What is your favorite sport?’ ‘What do you do in your free time?’. However, in the class I made the students brainstorm different things they wanted to know about their pen pals before they even received the template, along with five minutes of ‘fast-writing’ a draft letter. This ensured the students wouldn’t rely on the template so heavily, instead they could quickly use it as a reference if they needed help.
An Authentic Experience
Overall, this small idea of a life club has turned into something quite larger than I had expected. When I first came to Simon with this idea, I didn’t think the benefits this would bring for our students would be so great. Not only is this an opportunity for students to build international friendships, but it’s also a way for students to practice many of the skills we teach them on a daily basis. Our students are practicing English in a real life situation with a real person which heightens their interest and desire to be a part of this life club. By providing a unique opportunity to practice their writing skills, it gives them the motivation to continue learning English with EF. This priceless interaction is teaching our students more about a different culture than any normal classroom lesson could teach them. By being able to ask their own questions, our students are getting to learn about the topics they are curious about and are able to learn just how different Chinese and American cultures really are.
The Grand Vision
I am not only opening the world through education for our students here at TJ6, but I am also opening the world through education for a small town in South Louisiana. My hometown has never had anything like this in its community. It makes me proud to know that I have given our students and the students in Louisiana this opportunity. This is not only a milestone in my career but a milestone in our students’ lives. I hope to inspire other EF teachers to open their students’ worlds as well!