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3.5.2018 | Lauren Wilson |

Everything You Need To Know To Get Started With PenPal Schools

PenPal Schools connect learners around the world to collaborate on exciting, authentic projects on global issues. Sound good? Follow these 7 simple steps to get started!

Want to connect your students to new friends around the world to collaborate on exciting, authentic projects on global issues? PenPal Schools make lessons on global citizenship easy for the teacher and electrifying for the students! 

With PenPal Schools, educators have a range of thoughtfully designed, collaborative projects at their fingertips to spark international conversations on language, culture, and global issues. Loved by students and teachers in 150 countries, PenPal Schools even has a presidential seal of approval - it was recognized by President Obama as one of the world’s leading social enterprises in 2015!

Busy educators appreciate that PenPal Schools is designed to be straightforward, simple to use, and effective. You can get started on your PenPal journey in a matter of minutes! Simply select a project and you’ll receive lesson plans that are aligned to Common Core, TEKS and IB international standards, so you can be assured of positive learning outcomes. Whatsmore, lessons are self guided, differentiated and mixed media to ensure all students are engaged and inspired! When the sessions are wrapped up, PenPal Schools makes it easy for you to assess and track your students' progress and the information can even be integrated into Learning Management Systems.

Opening up your classroom to the world is a thrilling and beneficial experience and educators should be enabled to do so in a safe and fun way. With PenPal Schools, child safety is paramount. All data is secure and encrypted and only verified teachers and students can use the platform. For total peace of mind, teachers can monitor all messages to ensure conversations stay respectful, safe and on topic. All this allows students a safe space to get fired up to produce thoughtful, high quality work, knowing it’ll be seen by friends across the globe, not just their teacher!

You don’t have to wait to get started, as new courses begin every Monday! Upcoming projects include: Race in America, Protecting the Planet, Clothing and Culture Around The World, and Fake News - with many more projects to choose from! The projects are suitable for learners aged 8 and above and the platform currently supports English, Spanish, French and Mandarin. Projects are also commonly used as an English language learning tool!


Here's What You Need To Know To Get Started...


Step 1: Sign Up

Visit the website and register for an account. Next, invite your students to join using the class code provided. The first 5 teachers from a school can register for free. If more teachers from your school want to join the fun, the school can gain a site license for USD 1,900 per year (discounts are available for low income or PenPal Partner schools.) Students can access the projects on any device, all you need is an internet connection!

Step 2: Choose from Dozens of Topics

Choose standards aligned projects from a broad range of subjects including social studies projects on fake news, the environment, and civil rights, and STEM projects on robotics, meteorology, and geometry.

Each project comes with lesson plans including articles and videos to share with students. Weekly online lessons include discussion questions to inspire thoughtful conversations as well as high-quality videos, non-fiction texts, and vocabulary exercises to help students become informed. Language may be a barrier to some students as only four languages are currently supported. However, there are opportunities to improve their languages skills as PenPal Schools has language-intensive projects for English, Spanish, French, and Chinese.

Step 3: Familiarize Yourself with the Lesson Content

Teachers are masters of preparation, so you’ll naturally want to go through each lesson before assigning the project to students, taking a peek at each article and checking out the videos for that project. This is a chance to consider what your learners may find tricky and whether they will need any additional support to answer any of the questions.

 Step 4: Pre-teach Any Necessary Skills

Once you’ve anticipated areas that your students may find challenging, you can consider pre-teaching these skills to support them to access the project.

Some students may not have some of the literacy skills necessary to write to their penpal or they may not know how to edit their work so it can be more easily read by someone else. By explicitly teaching these skills to students before they start a PenPal Schools project, they will have the best chance of enjoying and benefitting from the experience. The Mystery PenPal Class activity can be downloaded from the Teacher Dashboard and provides lesson plans and resources to help teach students how to start a conversation with their penpals.

Step 5: Timetable 30 Minutes Per Week for PenPal Time

Be sure to set aside 30 minutes each week for students to log in to communicate and collaborate with their penpals! PenPal Schools connects each student with a group of PenPals from multiple classrooms around the world, so they’ll appreciate the time to catch up with their newfound international friends.

Step 6: Encourage Intercultural Understanding

Learners will naturally be curious about their PenPals' countries and cultures, so you'll want to stoke this fire! Students could explore news articles related to their new friends' country or learn about their culture. Not only will this increase general knowledge and deepen students' understanding of other cultures, it could spark interesting conversations in the classroom and makes the experience and learning more authentic for students.

Step 7: Use the Teacher Dashboard to Guide Students

The teacher dashboard enables teachers to view student work, provide feedback and tailor assessment. Whole-student reports show progress in reading, writing, social-emotional learning, and digital literacy all in one place. Weekly feedback to students through the dashboard can help improve their writing by providing feedback on strengths and areas for development and their writing can even be shared with parents.

The best news? As a teacher, you don’t have to miss out on all the PenPal fun! You can also use the dashboard to connect with educators from around the world to plan projects and share resources - your very own international PenPals!

For more information, including contact details, check out the PenPal Schools innovation page