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Pen Pals are Wonderful New Friends!

Students at Aguilar Library's Center for Reading and Writing are getting to know other students from around the city! They are pen pals with students in one ESOL evening class at CUNY's City Tech Adult Learning Center in Brooklyn.

Jay Klokker's students at City Tech introduced themselves to Aguilar Library's CRW students in short handwritten letters and within a week, Aguilar Library's CRW students had their replies out in the mail back to Brooklyn!

More than 20 pairs of pen pals look forward to their "mail," which is hand delivered by their teachers each week. Some topics discussed include: The Breadwinner, a book about a girl in Afghanistan; how difficult it is to study English; playing soccer; the trials of a difficult engineering job in this country; traveling to Mexico; watching Seinfeld; living with a cat; and having a girlfriend!

In one correspondence, a Japanese student writes to an Albanian student:

"You did an amazing job looking at the map and describing the cities in my country. I cannot tell the details about your country... I lived in Tokyo and sometimes I went to Yokahama. Unfortunately, I have never been to the other areas you discovered on the map. I hope to go one day..."

One student from Thailand writes to a woman from Belarus:

"Do you know that I smile all the time while reading your letter? I am so happy to have a friend like you. You have a beautiful name, too. What is the meaning of your name? Please tell me."

One Chinese student congratulates her new friend on her new job:

"In my opinion, you got the job very easily, How is it being a cashier? Is it easy or difficult? Do you enjoy it? You are lucky that you got a new job... On weekends I go to work to take care of my client. Sometimes we go shopping together and sometimes she goes to church with me. So I love my job very much..."

Making new friends in NYC is always a challenge to our students, so having pen pals seemed to be a good way to begin a friendship, and it helps students develop their writing skills as well!

We are planning a Pen Pal Party for December, where students will meet one another for the first time! How wonderful is that?


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Letter Writing incorporates all, including fun!

Pen Pal writing is an amazing way for students to interact on paper. And, without even realizing it, they are able to work on their writing skills. I'm glad to hear, even with new technology and emails, that students are taking the time to READ, WRITE, and LEARN something new about someone else! What a wonderful idea - READING and WRITING now, LISTENING and SPEAKING to their new friend in December! That's an amazing activity that incorporates all, including fun!

The Fun Factor

How wonderful to see students so excited about this project! Making friends and learning at the same time. Thank you, Elaine, for remembering the "fun factor".

Letter-Writing Is the Best Motivation

It is truly inspiring to see a literacy lesson rooted in the most engaging of activities...letter-writing! I have a pen pal in Austin, TX. We don't talk on the phone; our only connection is through our words on the page. When I get a letter from her, it has the power to turn a hum-drum day into a memorable one. So, of course, I want to send the same kind of powerful letter to her, and I think carefully about what I want to say and how I want to say it. From the excerpts in this blog, I can see that the same kinds of feelings are happening between the pen pals at Aguilar and City Tech. What a wonderful project!

The universe expands!

This is wonderful. The project makes the point so convincingly that we at Aguilar are not only a community within our own walled space - but that once reading/writing skills are launched and fortified here, they can take a person directly into contact with another life, another world. (It would be interesting, for students who become penpals, to subsequently research and read excerpts from famous correspondences of historical figures. [Did Nelson Mandela write to friends from his jail cell? etc.]) Friendships on the written page - a great tradition, as well as a deep personal solace through hard times.

Famous Letters???

I happen to think this is a great idea -- learning about famous correspondences!! There must be books of famous letters and letter writers for our students to read through. Any suggestions?

famous correspondences

Almost by definition, such correspondences would hail from decades/centuries past, & thus be syntactically challenging. Letters would have to be researched carefully, even cherry-picked for accessibility. Some possibilities: Abigail Adams & John Adams (conjugal love) Elizabeth Barrett Browning & Robert Browning (husband & wife 19th century poets) Carson McCullers & Tennessee Williams (friendship) Langston Hughes & Manuel Zapata Olivella (2 writers - and many of our classes use Hughes's poems) Roert Bly & James Wright (2 poets) = Also, single letters of note: Tolstoy to his American visitors, the freed POW Kurt Vonnegul to his Dad, Thomas Jefferson. Much more to be researched.

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