LBMS Pen Pal Project Brings A World Of Lessons

Schools and Libraries

October 25, 2014

Long Beach Middle School seventh-grade students are learning about Uganda as part of an instructional unit spread throughout various subject areas.

The opportunity to study this country as it relates to the curricula arose when English teacher Jessica Vetter proposed the coordination of a pen pal activity through her son, who is teaching at a school in Uganda during his involvement with the Peace Corps. The initiative has expanded far beyond letter writing, and students are exploring the geographic and scientific components of Uganda in their other classes.

Vetter introduced students to the pen-pal project by presenting a slideshow about her son's life overseas. She discussed his work with the Peace Corps, the family that he stayed with during his training period and his role at a school. The students received an overview of the communities, educational programs, sports, games and traditional dress that are common in Uganda. Vetter then reviewed the pen pal assignment and offered several examples of topics the students might opt to write about in their first letters, even providing opening phrases in the Ugandan recipients' native language. Writing to an authentic audience provides added incentives to students to express their ideas clearly and with detail.

In addition to building upon their literacy skills through the letter writing activities, students began learning about the nutrition and health in Uganda in Meg Kalner's science classes. Health classes taught by Darlene Glasser and Lisa Leibowitz took part by looking at the influences of music and culture on decision-making. Dr. John Marr's social studies classes spent time exploring maps of this region in East Africa.

This unit is aligned with the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program, as it encourages students to think creatively, develop a broader understanding of other cultures and connect their classroom lessons with the outside world. The students look forward to hearing back from their new pen pals, who will surely have even more information to share about the country of Uganda.

Photo: Mrs. Vetter presented a slideshow about Uganda and assigned students to write their first pen pal letters.