Pen Pals

Assistance League of the Chesapeake Pen Pal Enrichment Activity

Project Literacy — Pen Pals

“Thank you for being my pen pal buddy. I had fun writing to you. We get out on June 5 so this means this is my last time writing to you. I will miss you even though I have never seen you in real life. It was fun writing to a human and learning about another state.”

So begins one of the letters received by a student at Georgetown East Elementary School in Annapolis, Maryland, where Assistance League of the Chesapeake members coordinate a pen pal enrichment activity. Each September our students are matched with a student in the same grade from another state. Chapter members work with teachers to help the students write letters to their pen pals. Over the years, our students have exchanged letters with children in Florida, Texas, California, and even Nepal (when we were fortunate to meet a principal from Nepal who was visiting in Washington, D.C.).

Students share personal interests and build relationships through letter writing. This activity helps students improve their writing skills. They learn to use correct grammar, spelling, punctuation and capitalization, while also learning to organize their thoughts.

Another student wrote, “Thank you for being my pen pal. It was cool to have a friend that lives in another country.” Participating students have developed an understanding of other cultures and have found common bonds. “I think many students have benefited from our efforts with the Pen Pal Club. Students are able to use their language arts skills while learning about other areas of our country,” says Maureen Smith, who organizes this activity. “In this age of technology and instant gratification, students enjoy the experience of receiving a real letter from a real person.”

The pen pal enrichment activity is part of our Project Literacy Program where members tutor and read to students. They read over the letters with the students and because it is a learning experience, gently correct the grammar: “Is that sentence a question? What punctuation mark should be at the end?”

Each child gets a folder with their name on the outside and the pen pal’s name on the inside. In each folder is lined paper, pencils and fun stickers, and we encourage students to decorate their letters. The folders are kept in the classroom until the end of the school year.

“My favorite letter was from a student in Florida who said he loved grits. His pen pal didn’t know about grits so I baked some cheese grits and brought them in for the class to taste. The picture shows a student tasting this southern dish for the first time,” says Maureen, and is a perfect example of how letter writing helps students broaden their knowledge about other areas of our country.

Assistance League of the Chesapeake is a nonprofit volunteer organization dedicated to improving the lives of children and adults through community-based philanthropic programs. Project Literacy is part of the Operation School Bell® program.