Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Projects - Books as Bridges

So we're still out of school for sub-zero temperatures and I'm starting to worry we might be out again tomorrow because the forecast only has it warming up slightly. But since I'm at home in my pajamas eating peanut butter out of the jar let me catch you up on our pen pal project with the local organization Books as Bridges, part of the International Book Project.

Originally, we thought we were getting pen pals in Ecuador but it turns out they are in Panama, but since they speak Spanish and are learning English I don't mind! Our teacher contact is actually a Peace Corps volunteer working with the English teachers at this school.

For our first letter my students wrote 3 paragraphs - an intro paragraph in Spanish with phrases like "Me llamo _____", "Tengo ___ años" and "Yo vivo en Lexington." The second paragraph they wrote either in Spanish or English about their likes and dislikes. Our third paragraph was in English talking about Thanksgiving.

Our first letters from our friends arrived about the same time we were sending our first letters. They were more profiles than anything else and it looks like some of them were written last spring so I wonder how long this school has been waiting for pen pals. Most of the letters were written in English, although a few did have some Spanish. So my students should have had no problem reading them, right? Wrong! They were written in cursive, something we just don't teach here in the States anymore. So many of my kids struggled to read their letters.

To combat this problem I put them into groups and passed out their letters. Together they were supposed to help each other read and share aloud about their new friends. Then I went around the room and read the letters for the students who were having trouble. In the last few minutes we shared with the class 1 or 2 things about our new pen pals.

The students were very excited to read their letters, although I did have a few ask me if they were real (this being a consequence of our performance based summative assessments being video messages to a not-so-real girl named Maria who was moving from Spain to Lexington...oops!)

The next part of the project will be another letter and a cultural package to teach our new pen pals about life in Kentucky. Ideas the students have thrown out already include menus from Kentucky Fried Chicken, bottles of Ale8, and basketball schedules for UK and U of L, as well as pictures of our school. We'll also have a cultural lesson on Panama from a representative from The International Book Project. More updates to come as we continue!


  1. I would like more information on this. I never have any luck actually finding a class. Sounds like fun.

    1. Hi Margaret,

      Here is the link to the Books as Bridges program. http://www.internationalbookproject.org/home/books-as-bridges/ I'm not certain if they work with classes outside of Kentucky though. I found them because they were a local organization.

      Thanks for reading! Sra. Kennedy