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Teach Global Awareness With Postcard Pen Pals

By Brian Smith on March 24, 2014
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

Just before Thanksgiving, I brought out our classroom globe to show my students the journey that the pilgrims took in pursuit of religious freedom. The class got crazy excited and immediately started buzzing about the globe. You may be asking, why would 5- and 6-year-olds get so worked up about a geographical tool? The answer is one-word simple: postcards. My class has been engaged in a pen pal program in which we receive postcards from around the world. As soon as they saw the globe, Thanksgiving was forgotten and they immediately wanted to know what exciting new place they would be hearing about. It was one of those wonderful teaching moments that you strive to experience every day.

It started last summer when my fellow blogger Allie Magnuson asked me if I want to join a kindergarten pen pals Facebook group. I immediately said yes! Now, after being a part of it all year, I can say it has been an amazing experience. And it was all made possible by the group's founder, Elissa Mattis, a kindergarten teacher from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. I had an exchange with Elissa where she told me the reasons behind her starting the group and I wanted to share her story with you.

Brian Smith: When did you begin the kindergarten pen pal exchange?

Elissa Mattis:  I created this exchange in July 2010.

BS: How did you get the idea for this program?

EM: I participated in an across-the-grades postcard pen pal exchange in September of 2009 to June 2010. My kindergarteners and I truly enjoyed the experience and looked forward to receiving new postcards and learning about new classrooms around the world. After the year, I thought it would be much more relevant to have an exchange with just kindergartners. I thought my students would better relate to their pen pals and it would also be more age appropriate information that was shared.

BS: How did you get the pen pal program started?

EM: I joined several kindergarten Facebook groups and posted, asking if anyone would be interested in joining a kindergarten postcard pen pal exchange. The response was overwhelming! My first year, I had 36 classrooms join the exchange and I have been participating in it ever since. Each year, I offer it up to new members, with the hopes to continue to expand the exchange.

BS: What is the biggest benefit of this program?

EM: It is so exciting for the students and me to receive new postcards and learn about so many countries, other than our own (Canada). The students are amazed to learn that even though we all live very far away from each other and even though things like the weather might be very different, we have many similarities. I really appreciate everyone taking time out of their busy schedules and participating!


How You Can Get Started


Writing the pen pal postcards is a wonderful lesson about main idea and detail. Here are the steps to make the project happen

  • Join a private Facebook group such as Kindergarten Pen Pals

  • Add your class and school address to the mailing list

  • Buy postcards and print the address labels from the mailing list

  • Discuss with your class what will be the idea/central message of your postcard

  • Record all the details your class thinks are important and want to include

  • Type and print the postcard paragraph based on what the class discussion

  • Tape the paragraph and address to the postcard with clear packing tape

  • Mail

Alex with Taiwan's postcardJaymie reading a postcard

Some of the best moments this year for my class have been when we receive the postcards. I never read the postcards on the day that I get them. I hold them a few days and try to do a little research before I read the latest arrival to my students. When we got our postcard from Indonesia I had a video ready to show my students the type of dancing that was mentioned. Since getting our postcard from Taipei, Taiwan and talking about when we are at school, they are asleep, Taiwan has become the number one dream vacation destination of my students!

Global awareness can be difficult to work into your day but it is important in creating well-rounded learners. This program has made global awareness an easy part of my class’ learning, in a most enjoyable and interesting fashion. I encourage anyone to start a program for their grade level. 

Let’s connect on Pinterest and Twitter.

I can’t wait to see you next week.

Comments (6)

My four year old son just got a pen pal in Malaysia. His writing isn't great yet, but it was an opportunity I couldn't pass up. Now the question is: What should he write? I am having a hard time finding information on Malaysia that is presented in an interesting kid-friendly way and have no idea what kind of information he should send that she (5 year old girl) would find interesting. Help?!

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Both of my children have had Elissa Mattis teach them kindergarten and I must say not only do the children enjoy the postcards but so do the parents! They are posted outside the classroom for all to see and they are very interesting to read.
I am so proud that my children are involved in this experience.
Thanks for the article!!

Great article, Brian! It's been so much fun being a part of this group!

What a great post. I am so glad you joined our pen pal group this year. We sure love getting those postcards and learning about each other and about other parts of the world.

Thanks Allie! It really has been such a great experience and it would be awesome to have replications pop up for all the grade-levels!

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