Whether it's airmail or e-mail, teachers have always been eager to use the latest technology to communicate with people from other cultures. Today's Internet has made us just one click away from those on the other side of the world. It lets you bring libraries of children's books or Webcam views of exotic places right into your classroom. Here are some strategies and sites that will help you explore places both familiar and foreign with children:

Low-Tech

Bulletin Board: Exploring Family Roots With Old Documents

America is a land comprised mostly of immigrants, so it is likely you have many different cultures represented in your group of children. Send home a note requesting that parents send in copies or scans of old family documents, such as passports, postcards, old photos, or diplomas. Next, display the copies along with each child's picture on a classroom wall or large bulletin board, using a world map to pinpoint each country that is represented.

Mid-Tech

Take a World Tour

Visit one of thousands of Webcams to show children what's going on right now in other parts of the world. Keep in mind that it might be nighttime there (which makes a pretty boring picture!).

Websites

  • EarthCam Want to see what's going on in Moscow or at the Eiffel Tower in France right now? There are thousands of Web cams hard at work delivering live images-either in still pictures or as streaming video from all over the world.
  • International Children's Digital Library Want to show children what a storybook looks like in China? This is a collection of more than 260 children's books from around the world, each carefully scanned and free of advertising. The books are part of the International Children's Digital Library (ICDL) and represent 27 cultures in 15 languages.

Tip: Bookmark sites beforehand to make sure they work.

The Ultimate Dictation Machine

Next time you want to do some collaborative writing, such as asking children to describe their family traditions, plug your laptop into a computer projector and start up any word processor. Set the font setting to large so that it is easy to see from any part of the room. As children talk, type so that they can see their language appearing on the large screen. Once they finish talking, reduce the type down to regular size, and print a copy for every child to take home. It's a great language experience.

Tip: Ask children to illustrate their portion of the story.

High Tech

Make Yourself a Low-Budget Elmo

Did you know that there's a system found in the boardroom of many wealthy companies called an Elmo? This is a specialized presentation camera used to easily show small items on a large screen.

Here's another way to do the same thing, without spending a lot of money. First, set up your digital camera or camcorder on a stable tripod and point it straight down toward a table. Next, clip a low-cost desk lamp firmly to the tripod stem so that the table is well illuminated-a lot of light is especially important. Aim the camera straight onto a picture book, then switch on the lamp, projector, and camera. After a bit of fiddling with the focus and angle, you'll be amazed at how clear the pictures look (from large elephants in Kenya to small insects of the rain forest) on a scale that every young child can see.