Last year, my friend Erick and I came up with an idea. Erick teaches writing (among other subjects) to 5th graders in Massachusetts, and I teach writing to college sophomores. Was there a way we could somehow bridge the Pacific and have the students interact with each other through writing? Of course: international pen-pals!
At first I was a little worried that my students would think it was a little too babyish. After all, Erick’s students are 10-years-old and mine are 21. But it turned out to be a benefit more than a problem. Since the 5th graders have less then perfect spelling and grammar, my students feel more relaxed and less worried about their own.
It was so successful last year that Erick and I continued it this year. In October my students wrote their first letter and last week they got the reply. I pulled the pack of letters out of my bag and in every class the students started yelling in excitement, and some even jumped put of their seats with excitement. They were even more excited when I said some of them had pictures from their American pen pal.
The best part of the exchange is learning about new cultures. From the content of the letters I could tell the American students had a lot of strange ideas about China. “Have you been to the Great Wall?” One American girls asked. “And are there giant panda’s on it?” Another boy asked if Chinese students had computers and many asked about eating sea horse. (Okay, they do eat sea horse, but mostly in tourist areas as a shock value thing. It is not typical in the Chinese diet.)
And on the other side of the coin, my students had questions for them. “What do you do on Christmas?” asked one. “Can you describe American food to me? I’ve only had KFC and McDonalds,” asked another.
The students are really excited to have this opportunity (and I think Erick’s students feel the same way) and through it they each learn more about each others culture in a way they wouldn’t otherwise. I can only teach so much (and considering it is writing class I don’t discuss culture so much) but these kid’s offer a new point of view about things like mac-n-cheese and the Hannah Montana.
This winter I’ll be going home for a few weeks and I’m planning on going to Erick’s class to visit his student’s face to face. In preparation I took pictures of my students reading the letters (some of which I’ve used in this entry) and then writing back. Hopefully, if luggage space allows, I’ll even bring a little Chinese surprise for each of the American students, and I’ll bring back something for my students as well.
I asked my students to write an evaluation of the course, to tell me what they liked/didn’t like. Almost every single student said their favorite part was writing to the American students. I’m glad that Erick and I can continue doing it into the next year.
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