Pen Pals are great, but postage over and over can be a bummer. Not to mention forgetting to bring a envelope, misplacing your stamps (why do you still have stamps?), or any other not-that-big-but-still-annoying excuse you can think of. Who still sends letters anyway? 1832 wrote, it wants its only form of long-distance communication back.
We have access to Google Docs, in all its Sharing glory. Why not turn that into a way to have global pen pals free of charge? "But Doug," you say. "Why not simply have students send emails?" I agree, Hypothetical Reader, that would be ideal. The most direct line from analog pen pals to digital pen pals is email. However, I have yet to work in a school district that allows students in the grade I teach to have access to their gmail. Middle schoolers get email, I'm in elementary. We are allowed to use Drive and all that entails, but for some reason sending emails is verboten. Yes, I know that's silly. They have many many emails from me arguing the point, and will get many more. Still, necessity, like Frank Zappa's band, is the mother of invention. Thus, pen pals via shared docs.
Because nothing online counts unless you brand it, I'm giving the practice of hooking up with another class and communicating via shared folders and Docs a name- Scryber Pals. It's a portmanteau of "scribe" and "cyber". It's very clever. We'll use #ScryberPals on the tweets to search and find classes to play with and to share coolness.
The idea is simple-
- Have each student in your class create a folder which they will share with full editing rights with a student from another class (and you, of course).
- Go on the Twitters or the Books of Faces or even, science forbid, Google+, and find a friendly teacher who wants to play. This would be like finding a Mystery Skype, but maybe even easier because hey, writing practice! Maybe it's even a first step to a Mystery Skype. Though, I guess it would take the Mystery out of the Mystery Skype if they already knew about the person they were Skyping. Still, I stand by my now weakened but still viable position.
- Because we're not worried about postage, no nuts with your search. Take it global. Sure, Scryber Palling with a class two states over is cool, but it's so much cooler to talk to a class in a completely different country.
- Pair kids up, get them writing and sharing. You're still teaching them letter writing skills in a real world environment. Maybe even more so, because who uses traditional letter writing conventions in most emails that they write? Doing it on a Doc would make it more like writing a letter, thus making the practice more effective.
- You could even challenge the pairs-
- "Ok, this time you need to write like you're business associates and it's a professional letter."
- "Now you're Civil War soldiers."
- "Now you have to find the same book in both your classrooms and agree on a cipher, then send the letter in that cipher like spies."
We're getting technology practice, writing practice, typing practice, reading comprehension practice, meeting new and different people, growing empathy through exposure...we're pretty much rocking and rolling here with this.
The rules for using the brand/hashtag are- use the brand/hashtag. Take the idea, bend it, break it remake it, use the name, don't use the name, whatever. If you like it, make it work for your class. It might end up as a chapter in the next book I write about teaching, or at least in one. But the book won't be about it, and I don't know why I would be uptight about you doing things a certain way. Do things for kids, not for credit. Besides, the odds that I'm the first person to think of this are pretty low.
Scryber Pals- Coming soon to a Shared Folder near you.
And as always, the internet hive mind has better ideas than I do and builds on things brilliantly, so use the comment section to add your ideas.