- Grade level: Upper or Lower Elementary
- Subject Area: Language Arts
Students will begin communicating over e-mail with students around the world in preparation for future collaborative activities. This lesson can provide a great supplement to traditional language arts activities, such as writing for an audience, reading for editing, and writing a journal, as well as introduce students to different perspectives and points of view. The concept of students as global citizens and appreciation for people of different cultures, societies, and countries are stressed in these types of activities, as students come to know and respect other students outside their local community. A personal connection between two students can help each understand each others' point of view and broaden their thinking on local, national, and global issues of mutual interest.
- Learn to communicate using text - reading, writing, editing, etc.
- Work in collaborative groups.
- Understand different perspectives of students from around the world.
Materials and Resources
- Hardware requirements: A computer and modem.
- Software requirements: E-mail account(s), software and Web browser (for teacher), preferably Netscape.
- Network/Internet requirements: Access to the Internet or to other e-mail services (AOL, Compuserve, etc.).
Before beginning this lesson, the teacher should locate and coordinate e-mail exchanges with students in other classrooms by visiting any of the resources listed below (see Lesson Plan Resources). Posting a message to these list servers or Web sites will publisize that students are looking for key pals to communicate with. This should lead to another teacher contacting you and setting up the ongoing exchange, or perhaps a group of classrooms sharing e-mail.
Prior to actually starting the key pals lesson, teachers may also want to consider how students will receive and respond to their e-mail messages. There are at least two ways of doing this:
- Each student can have their own e-mail address and receive their e-mail directly, without teacher involvement. Teachers may want to discuss issues related to privacy and security for students, and establish rules for conduct over e-mail, prior to letting students send and receive their own e-mail. In addition, parents should give their permission for their children to participate in these e-mail exchanges.
- Otherwise, the teacher can use their own e-mail address for all messages sent and received, and then use the SUBJECT field in the e-mail message to direct mail to specific student names. This allows the teacher to filter all the e-mail sent and received, before passing it along to the students. This oversight obviously requires more time and effort on the part of the teacher.
Also in preparation for this lesson, consideration should be given to when students will be allowed to read and respond to their e-mail, and how this activity will fit within their other classroom work. One way is to have students communicate with their key pals around specific writing tasks - such as describing their local community, research their doing, etc. - or on specific topics - related to science, social studies, etc.
- Begin by discussing mail as a form of communication in general, and electronic mail specifically, and introduce students to the concpet of sharing ideas and experiences across time and space. Students may already be familiar with writing to pen pals, family members, or sports figures, and these experiences will help them appreciate the activity.
- Discuss any rules of conduct and procedures for using the computer to send and receive e-mail beforehand. Some teachers with a single computer in their classroom (or at home) have had success with students rotating computer usage for reading and writing e-mail while other students are involved in other activities.
- Incorporating the e-mail exchanges into the curriculum is also important, and can be shaped by topics of study or interest, newsworthy items, social and cultural issues, or even current events. Use these as opportunities to situate the communication within other classroom tasks.
- E-mail messages can be sent as they are typed, or saved and sent in a batch in the evening, when phone rates may be lower. Likewise, messages can be received all-at-once or when they are received by the e-mail server.
- Student writing should be directed toward their audience, and they should be encouraged to read and edit their messages before they are sent. Likewise, messages received should be read carefully for spelling, punctuation, and grammer.
- Pen Pal Connection
Where you can register your students and/or classroom, search for pen pals, and remove your name from the list.
- E-Mail Key Pal Connection
Inspired by the philosophies of John Amos Comenius, this site supports registration for key pals by a request form.
- Intercultural E-Mail Classroom Connection
The St. Olaf College site has a number of list servers (discussion lists) that you can join to help connect classrooms across states and countries. These lists are for teachers, researchers, and include projects that can operate over the Internet.
- International Penpals @ Jill's Home Page
Jill maintains a page for teachers and students who are looking for key pels.