Pen Pal Letter Exchange

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Wiki Lesson Title: Pen Pal Letter Exchange

Name(s) of Teacher(s): Susannah Roberts

Class/Grade/Language Level: Junior high school (best starting from 2nd year and up)

Textbook and specific lesson: N/A

Goal: Boost student’s confidence in English communication and foster cross-cultural understanding!

Preparation: Make contact with an exchange school in an English-speaking country and assigner each student a partner, make a timeline of letters and topics, brainstorm familiar grammar for students to use.

Class time: One to two 50 minute periods per letter (first and final drafting)


1. First, find an exchange school and an approximate grade level in your home country (I worked with my former junior high school English teacher!) Highlight the project’s opportunities for students to learn how to explain their culture and traditions, compare their interests and school life, and make international friends. Work out exactly how long the project will go for, and the general topic of each letter. (Our exchange is 4 letters total: a Japanese introduction letter, an American introduction and response, a Japanese response and discussion of holiday traditions, and an American response and wrap-up.)


2. Give a short presentation to your students introducing the project. You can pinpoint the two schools on a map, look at the town on Google Maps, showcase popular activities and school clubs….Get the students curious!


3. Draft introduction letters together for 1-2 lessons: a 自己紹介 (6-7 sentences, they should be familiar with this), an introduction of their town and area (2-3 sentences), and questions about their pen pal and school life (2 sentences). Go through each section step by step, focusing on familiar grammar. Have students work in pairs, brainstorm ideas on the board, and then draft each paragraph as a class. Emphasize that students must explain the elements of Japanese culture they mention: their partner will not be familiar with onsens or local monuments! Most importantly, stress that communication is far more important than perfect English!


4. Give the students the names of their pen pals, and have them finish a first draft in class, then correct it for any unclear content and return. Have students write their final draft on cute stationary and then gather up the letters and mail them out, making sure that every student has written to the correct pen pal. Communicate with your pen pal teacher regarding what kind of replies you expect to receive.


5. After receiving replies, spend one lesson interpreting and translating the response, discussing common phrases as a group and focusing on how to respond to pen pal’s specific questions. Focus on responding to the letters’ content, and then introducing a new topic for discussion (for example, a seasonal holiday, a comparison of schools, etc.) Repeat previous brainstorming process together, and have fun!


Here’s an example introduction letter:


Dear __________,

My name is Kumamon. I’m 13 years old, and I live in Tsunagi. I like music and food. My favorite food is basashi. (Basashi is horse sashimi.) My favorite band is Arashi. Do you know Arashi? I’m a member of the baseball club. When I have free time, I ride my bike or read comic books.

Tsunagi is a great town. It’s in Kumamoto prefecture, on Kyushu island. Tsunagi has mountains and the beach. 5,000 people live here. Tsunagi has a nice onsen. An onsen is a Japanese hot spring. I have some questions. What do you like to do? What’s your favorite food? Do you like sushi? What is your town famous for? I am excited for your letter!

Sincerely,

Kumamon