Williams thought it was a fair question for a student in an urban environment to ask.
“It just doesn’t happen in their community, so it sounds strange to them, but for us it’s normal,” Williams said. “But then they talk about getting on the train to ride the subway into the city. That’s something our kids don’t know about simply because there’s no frame of reference here for them.”
While his students are having a fun time answering questions, asking questions and learning more about their pen pals who seem worlds away, they are also building language skills like grammar, punctuation, spelling, sentence structure, verb usage and tense, and fulfilling some of the content goals for their grade level in writing.
“They are meeting the standard of writing for an authentic purpose, which we’ll build on when they write a narrative then ultimately, do some non-fiction writing,” Williams said. “And this lesson is couched in social studies and writing time as we’re studying social studies through writing.”
Williams said the sending and receiving teacher always reviews the letters before releasing them to their students. That way they can check them for appropriateness, make sure students complete the assignment and also prepare lesson plans around topics that might come up like Hanukkah and the Indian holiday of Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights, celebrated by many of their pen pals in New Jersey. The California class also recently shared one of their own projects with Williams’ students, books about their class pets, two hamsters named Oreo and Sandy.
“So we took some time to learn a little bit about hamsters,” Williams said. “We hope to soon send them a presentation we’re working on now.”
Williams said his students love writing to their pen pals, and he hopes to add an international classroom to their mailing list soon. Doing so would help to broaden his students’ sense of adventure, expand on their natural curiosity, and help them gain perspective and empathy.
“Fourth-graders are still full of imagination and have a sense of wonder and like to explore, and the best way I can help them explore is through a project like this,” Williams said. “Although there may be many cultural and geographical differences, kids all around the world are essentially the same. Kids are still kids no matter what – in California, in New Jersey and right here in Campbellsburg.”