It’s been a looong time since I last wrote a letter to anyone, especially an informal one. With technology taking over the world, I feel like pen pals have become a thing of the past. Wow, it’s now around 20 years ago I had a pen pal in France, arranged by my teacher at high school. With people getting used to receiving messages and letters instantly via technology, I think people have become too impatient to have pen pals the way we once did. This doesn’t mean we can’t use technology and still have pen pals. There are websites out there to connect students from all around the world. The one I’m going to talk about is ePals.
EPals was founded in 1996, but has had a makeover since then. It has merged with a program called In2Books which is a structured curriculum that pairs students with students or students with adult mentors. They read and study something in common, and then have a dialogue about it. It promotes collaborative and authentic learning for grades 3-5. The program provides access to free books too.
ESL learners require motivation and confidence to write. If they are able to write about their interests with a real purpose, then this helps motivate them a lot more. Epals is a fantastic way for ESL learners to connect with native speakers and other ESL learners globally, to communicate, share experiences, discuss ideas and help one another and also learn about different cultures. Many researchers (Au, 1993; Barnitz, 1998; Freeman & Freeman, 1990; Halliday, 1975; Lindfors, 1987) argue that personal interaction plays an important role in learning a language. Students are able to learn better through interacting with each other and sharing ideas and messages in a meaningful way. Pen pal or ePals is a perfect way to fulfil these aspects of language development. Having a pen pal gives learners an opportunity to improve their writing through an authentic audience. It gets students excited, knowing that their writing will be read by someone genuinely interested in what they have to say, and can expect to receive a genuine reply.
Learners can rest assured that ePals is safe and secure as they try their very best to safeguard privacy and ensure cyber safety. Teachers will be pleased to know that there are plenty of ready to use resources on the site to make life easier for them. There are also resources for learners in the Learning Centre, where they can find links to some fun activities. Learners can play games with each other or share news from around the world.
Not only is ePals for connecting with others, it has a ‘projects’ feature. There are many projects for newly connected schools to engage in, which include topics such as global warming, culture, history etc. These projects come with learning objectives, lesson plans, and resources, making life a lot easier for teachers.
A downside to having a pen pal electronically as opposed to the traditional mailing method, is that learners don’t get that excitement of waiting for the post and physically opening their letter. I guess this has become the norm these days, and youngsters don’t feel like they’re missing something they haven’t had before.
One of the great advantages of this site is that there is a Teachers’ Forum, which makes it easy for learners to communicate with teachers from around the world. The forum is useful for learners to ask questions or to just get ideas from posts. In addition, there is a Help Centre to assist site users, which includes videos and answers to frequently asked questions. This is handy as the site is not really for technophobes as it can be quite cumbersome with many navigations.
It is free to register with ePals, just click here to join.
Liu, P. (2002). Developing an E-Pal Partnership a School-Based International Activity. Childhood education, 79(2), 81-87.