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21 century pen pals

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Keywords: International Pen Pals
Subject(s): Social Skills, Technology, Writing, Reading, Social Studies, English/Language Arts
Grades 3 through 8
NETS-S Standard:
  • Creativity and Innovation
  • Communication and Collaboration
  • Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, and Decision Making
  • Digital Citizenship
  • Technology Operations and Concepts
View Full Text of Standards
School: St Joseph's Grade School, Toms River, NJ
Planned By: Meredith Heim
Original Author: Meredith Heim, Toms River
Throughout the course of the year I rely heavily on audio visual equipment in the classroom to communicate with teachers and students of different countries. These particular lessons involve communicating with a 2nd grade class in Latvia.

21st Century Life and Careers: 9.1.4.B.1 - Participate in brainstorming sessions to seek information, ideas, and strategies that foster creative thinking.
9.1.4. D.1 - Use effective oral and written communication in face-to-face and online interactions and when presenting to an audience.
9.1.4. E.2 - Demonstrate effective communication using digital media during classroom activities.
Social Studies: 6.1.P.B.1 Develop an awareness of the physical features of the neighborhood/community.
6.1. P.D.4 Learn about and respect other cultures within the classroom and community.
6.1.4. D.18 Explain how an individual’s beliefs, values, and traditions may reflect more than one culture.
6.1.4.D.19 Explain how experiences and events may be interpreted differently by people with different cultural or individual perspectives.
Describe why it is important to understand the perspectives of other cultures in an interconnected world.

Conduct and interview with someone of a different culture.
Compare and contrast different holidays throughout the course of a year in America and Latvia.
Describe cultural traditions of America and Latvia.
Plan storyboards and scripts for documentaries and short informational videos.
Summarize perception on America and Latvia at the end of the year.


1. this is a yearlong project involving my third grade class and a 2nd grade class at the International School in Latvia. Initially our communications start off with introductory letter/emails to the student’s assigned “pen pal” within the month of September. The students follow the typical letter format and use sequencing strategies to build a well written letter. I have 23 students and the class in Latvia has 13 so most of my students share their pen pal with another student in my class. This way the students who struggle with writing can work with a partner to better their letter. Along with the letters we send pictures of ourselves in class.

2. The first video project we exchange is all about a shared topic we learn in school. Both classes were learning about communities and homes. We described our community, school, surroundings/location, environment, community jobs, etc. With our descriptions we sent along pictures of our individual homes and school.

3. Our next project was our first video project. Both classes were learning about explorers. His class sent a video that they made describing who Vikings were. They taught us about the food they ate, clothes they wore, weapons, homes, armor, intentions, surroundings. Along with their video, they sent us a 20 question quiz which we answered in groups and emailed our answers back to them to be corrected. We then sent them a video teaching them about Pilgrims and Indians describing the same topics. What they ate, clothes, homes, language, entertainment etc. We also sent them a 20 question quiz based on the information we taught them.

4. For Christmas we sent “How to” descriptions and pictures for different holiday traditions we celebrated. It was step by step instructions written in groups for how to make our favorite Christmas cookie recipe, wrapping presents, make your own ornament, etc. The sent us how to instructions for special New Year’s traditions they have. One being a tradition where they melt metal and dump it into water then see what design it makes in the water to predict your future for that year. (Would have loved the flip video for this instead of taking still pictures for each step!)

5. We just finished working on summaries on our countries folktales. Students were split into groups, re read folktales they were familiar with from their country and then summarized the story. The one student read their summary out loud while the other students in the group acted it out. Then we sent the summary, video and pictures to one another.

*We are awaiting How To videos from Latvia about how to dye an Easter egg. They use natural resources such as flower, grass, leafs, to dye eggs and we are interested to see how it works since we use dye from the store!

*6. What I would like to use the flip video for the end of the year is to make videos about “The Day in the Life of a St. Joseph’s Grade School 3rd Grader”. We will plan our script, story board and interview questions for the different scenes that will take you through the day of a 3rd grader at SJGS. You will see our morning routine, specials, recess, interviews with students and teachers, lessons, buses, tour of the school with explanations, special projects, etc. This will be an intriguing way to show the students our daily routines and how what our school day is like plus it could be a promotional video for our school to show at open house, parent teacher night, recruiting visits, etc.

I also plan to skype with the class towards the middle or end of May. It would be great to have other students film this part of our experience to be able to show their families and the community of St. Joseph’s the experience they have been so privileged to have.

End of the Year Assessment:

Write a letter to next year’s third grader explaining how your experience was interacting with the students from Latvia. Include what your favorite part was and your least favorite part. Also include 5 things you learned about the Latvian culture.

Cross-Curriculum Ideas
Sequencing for letter writing and story writing.
Cultural Awareness
All subjects cxan be assessed because they are making videos to teach other students across the world what they have learned through their own examples and professional examples.
Materials: Video Cameras, Flip Video, Digital Cameras, Projectors, Projector Screens, Microphones, Printers, Computer Accessories