Today I want to share one of the best things I have done this year. You see, I moved 4.5 years ago from home (Buffalo NY) to Memphis. One of my best friends in the entire world, Jackie, is a teacher of 2nd grade special ed students in Buffalo. I am not sure WHY this took us 4 years to decide to do, but this year we decided to match our kids up and have pen-pals. My third graders are ALWAYS struggling with writing. There just isn't enough emphasis on it I guess and at third grade I spend forever just working on getting sentences that are more than 4 words long. Her students, of course, need help in writing and reading as well, so we figured this would be perfect!
Behind the scenes of the actual lessons, Jackie and I had to match our students up. Which was semi-difficult because I have 20-23 students at any given time (our kids are VERY transient) and she has 16 kids. It meant some of her students had to write two letters. So on top of trying to match girls with girls and boys with boys, we tried to match based on ability and who in her class would be able to do 2 letters.
In the classroom, I started out by teaching my students about friendly letters. We looked at a few of our reading stories (Night Letters, and The Gardener) and the book I Wanna Iguana. Students were assigned a story and had to look at the letters and find similarities between them. Students pointed out that every letter started with Dear _____, every letter had "words" (the body), the letters were signed by someone. Not all of the letters had dates so that was something we had to really search for. I told them WHY we did this and explained what a pen-pal was. We made a list of a TON of topics they would want to write about in their letters. And left it at that for a few days. Every day the kids were begging me to start writing, but they weren't ready just yet.
Next, I set up an anchor chart with The Friendly Letter song (I can't remember WHERE I found this but if it is yours let me know so I can give credit) and a little stick figure person. We read the song first (I made small copies for each student) then sang it. After we sang a few times, we labeled the parts of the letter on our little stick figure.
We finally started writing our friendly letters. I handed out post its with their pal's name on it and we started writing together. After the first couple sentences (My name is ____ and I am ___ years old. I live in ____.) they were on their own. I wasn't thinking and didn't take pictures of their letters. For this first letter, we were writing at the same time as Jackie's class since these were just introduction letters. While working through the next few days, we got our first package in the mail! The kids were SO excited to get their letters.
Not only did they get letters, but they got chocolates molded in the shape of buffalos. (From one of the BEST candy places ever..but I digress..) Jackie also sent me a pad of to do lists...because she knows my obsession.
We FINALLY sent our letters out a couple weeks before break (I think...I can't even remember now) and with our letters we sent the book Ten Little Elvi (since Elvis is from Memphis and all...) and a cute little Christmas gift for Jackie. It is an ornament with a fish on it writing on a chalkboard that says "One FINtastic Teacher". (If you check out her blog here, you will understand why I would send her a fish ornament.)
We are anxiously awaiting the arrival of our next package! And once we get the letters and get back into the swing of things, we will be writing back to our friends and sending them another awesome surprise!
Who knew that pen-pals would motivate these kids to write so much?! And why did we wait so long to do this?!
PS... as if this post wasn't long enough- if you made it this far, you will definitely want to know this BIG news... as soon as Jackie gets to 25 blog followers (she is halfway there) her and I are going to be giving away a couple prizes. She is giving away her polar animals unit (I have this and LOVE it... not that I can teach it this year- don't get me started..) and I am going to let the winner of the giveaway choose one item from my store. So stop on by her blog and show some love!