For your students, meeting and making friends with same-age students across the country is going to be one of the best parts of participating in The USPS Pen Pal Project. How can you and your partner teacher build the relationships between your students? A video call with your partner classroom is a great way to start! Meeting their pen pals face-to-face will help build friendships and get students excited about writing their letters. Here are our tips for a successful pen pal video call meet and greet (hint: you can use video conferencing options such as Zoom, Google Meet, or Microsoft Teams):
Time it right
We definitely recommend you wait until you and your partner classroom have exchanged at least one set of letters. That way, your students will have had a chance to get to know their pen pals a little bit and will have more to talk about. March could be a great time to try this!
Make sure your students’ parents know about your scheduled video call. And as tempted as you may be to record this for posterity or for an absent student, don’t. Remember: privacy laws prohibit recording.
Get your students on one-to-one devices
If you’re teaching virtually, you’re in luck! If not and you don’t have a 1:1 situation in your classroom, you’ll want to reserve the computer lab or mobile lab so everyone can be on their own screen. Trust us—putting the entire class on the screen on both ends is a recipe for chaos. Cameras on and make sure each student has their own set of headphones.
Start with some teacher-directed activities
You’re going to need to warm everyone up. Work with your partner teacher to plan some fun things you can all do together. For example, you could read the same book prior to the call and then discuss it together. You might prepare a weather report for the other class. Or you could use the Poll Everywhere app to ask questions (favorite ice cream flavor, best pizza topping) and compare results between classrooms.
You can also play a game, like:
Story Chain: Start a story with an engaging hook. For instance, “One day I was walking through a shady forest. I thought I was alone, but all of a sudden…” Have students raise their hands if they want to tell the next portion of the story. Choose a student to continue the story (just a line or two) and let them choose the next storyteller in the same way. Continue until everyone who wishes has had one chance to contribute.
Detective: Choose one student to be “Detective” and ask them to mute their microphone, close their eyes, and count to thirty. Pick another student to be “It.” The player who is “It” begins an action, such as patting themself on the head. All the other students follow suit and pat their heads. When the Detective is done counting, they open their eyes and observe the group. When “It” thinks the Detective is looking at someone else, they change the action, such as clapping their hands together. All the other students also change their actions. The Detective gets three guesses to catch the player that is “It.”
Prepare questions ahead of time
Have your students brainstorm topics or questions to ask. If your platform has a hand-raising feature, you can use it so kids can take turns asking their pen pals questions. Have them try this: “This question is for Steven. If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?” You may want to have kids respond in chat so there’s not as much muting and unmuting. To keep everyone engaged, you might create a checklist or Bingo board (e.g., Find someone whose favorite school subject is math.)
- What do you like about your school?
- What do you like about where you live?
- What’s your favorite book/movie/TV show/color/animal?
- What do you want to be when you grow up?
- What do you like to do in your free time?
- What makes you feel brave/energized/thankful/loved?
Send them off!
It’s important for your video call session to give both classes a sense of closure, so do a cheer, wave, or dance to say goodbye and get everyone excited for the next set of letters.