Would you use a free online pen pal exchange to connect with other teacher's classes globally?

TeAch-nology.com's Teacher Poll of the Week
Would you use a free online pen pal exchange to connect with other teacher's classes globally?

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A resounding majority of teachers said they would use an online pen pal exchange for their students. The benefits of such a system would be incredible. From a completely pragmatic, practical standpoint students would practice writing skills. Whether the letters were handwritten and sent by mail or typed and emailed wouldn't matter. Composing a letter and formulating your ideas into a logical sequence on paper is a valuable skill to learn both for future academic pursuits and for life in general.

Students who require simple literacy practice would also benefit. Writing their own letter and then reading the reply can keep students interested in the importance of literacy at the same time they are practicing it. All the while they can be learning about a different part of the world. Entire thematic units could be based on information garnered from the pen pal in another country. What kind of culture is representative in that country, what holidays do they celebrate, or what kind of foods they eat could all form the basis for more in-depth study.

Students could take their new-found knowledge and present it to the class, thus practicing public speaking and presentation skills. If the pen pals were doing the same types of projects, our students would need to research information to send to them. Both sets of students benefit academically from the exchange of information. It may also be possible to turn the pen pal program into an exchange program. Each set of students could travel to the pen pal's location and spend some time there attending school, going on field trips and visiting each other. Anyone who has taken part in this type of program as a student never forgets the experience. Some of these pen pals could become lifelong friends. Stranger things have happened.

With the benefits of such a program it is hard to see the opposition to online pen pals. Perhaps teachers will worry that the amount of work involved will outweigh any academic benefits. Finding time is an already jam-packed curriculum is also a challenge. Also students need to be an age where they will remember the connection. Younger children taking part in a program of this type may not benefit as greatly as some of the older students.

While there are some concerns involved, for many teachers the perceived benefits obviously outweigh the concerns, making this type of program a very positive experience.