An easy pen pal project for writing skills

penpal project boy writing letter

Improve writing skills with a pen pal exchange project! Receiving letters can be motivational and fun for children learning English.

Novelty factor

Children do not generally receive physical mail, so receiving good old-fashioned letters and cards by post can be quite a thrill. If you have a budget, you can pay an organisation to set up a pen pal project with a school abroad. Children always write in their non-native language. So Spanish children write in English, and English children reply in Spanish. 

Create a pen pal scheme

If you can’t communicate outside your school for security, or other reasons, consider setting up a pen pal scheme within your school, using your own English students. All students write exclusively in English, and the teacher delivers the post (mail in the US). Students take a nickname and communicate with a different classroom without knowing their correspondent. However, since teachers are so busy, keep logistics simple. Have one post box only – a cardboard box with a narrow slit. The box spends one week in classroom A and the following week in classroom B. That box is only for those two classrooms, so it is quick to deliver the letters, and you don’t get into a muddle given that students are using nicknames.

Create a post box

If the exchange is successful, students can decorate the post box to look like an English post box, US or other mailbox. You might even roll the scheme out to other classrooms, with different colour boxes, so you never mix them up.

A UK post box, a Canadian mail box and a US mail box

Getting letters and card is exciting for kids.

Give students a framework

For a successful pen pal project, it’s helpful to give guidelines for what to write. Otherwise, some pupils will simply not know what to write! Therefore, provide a structure for students to fill with their own ideas. For example, a framework for the first letter might be:

Name: Write your pen pal nickname
What’s your favourite subject in school?
What do you like doing at the weekend?
Ask your pen pal a question, something you would like to know about them.

Develop from there but keep things structured because with creative writing tasks, the temptation is to get carried away when the level of English just isn’t there. 

Discover the culture and traditions of the English-speaking world

As you go through the year, students can ask each other what they got for Christmas, whether they did trick or treat for Halloween, what costume they wore. Did they get a chocolate egg or bunny at Easter, and so on. Adapt these special days, feasts or holidays to your culture. Look back (what did you do) or look forward (what are you doing this weekend) to work on different tenses.

To encourage an ongoing exchange and dialogue, specify that students always ask their pen pal one or two questions about them. Then provide those questions if necessary.

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5 thoughts on “An easy pen pal project for writing skills”

  1. Love it! Sounds great! Even more now that they are coming from a year and a half without seeing their classmates. There is too much to erite about. Thanks for sharing

  2. Flor Esperanza Becerra Becerra(Panchita)

    Hi there. Dear Shelley thanks a lot for your wonderful ideas. I`m gonna share my experience. Pen pal is a great idea, I had worked it with my students of tenth and eleventh grades and the results were excellent. That was an opportunity to get new relationship and to meet other people. I tell you, I did like you suggested. They created a nickname and I had plenty information about them. I had my scholarbag divided in bags of different courses, when I came to class everyday, I was happy because everybody were excited and surprised because their post is arriving. I called them using the nicknames and they passed and received their post. At the end of this activity They sent the last letter with chocolates and wrote who were them , real names and course and they had to write how was the activity and something to the other student about him/her qualities. I was the post woman. It was an excellent tool to do my classes more dinamics and meaningful . I consider this activity is a wonderful way to develop the creativity per each student and to practice English. Thank you very much. Hugs. Teacher: Flor Esperanza Becerra Becerra. From my beautiful Duitama- BoyacĂ -Colombia. I love your books.

    1. Hello there Esperanza,
      You are such a dynamic teacher! Well done for all your efforts, and I am so glad that your students enjoyed the exchange! All the best, Shelley

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