Sunday, December 2, 2012

Writing letters

As many of you know, I recently did a project where people were invited to receive a letter from one of my students. One of the syllabus topics that I need to cover is writing friendly letters (as opposed to business letters). It is difficult to teach students how to write letters here, along with most other topics because of their lack of enthusiasm. Their lack of enthusiasm stems from many reasons, however, it is often because what they are learning isn’t applicable in their daily lives. There are a lot of points about letter writing that the students need to remember (things that I didn’t even learn myself in school). I decided that I would see if I could arrange some type of pen pal system between people around the world and my students. At very least, my students would see a point to learning how to write letters instead of just me, saying again, “this is really important, you will probably see it on your national examination”.

After proposing the idea on Facebook, I received a lot of enthusiasm from people who wanted a letter and also would want to write back. I received over 40 offers from people to exchange with my students. Once I knew I had participation around the world, I offered it up to my students. Initially, I had about 45 students sign up to write letters.

I made only 3 rules for my students. The first one was that they needed to show up after school for 2 hours each between two selected days. They couldn’t show up to one or the other. The second rule was to bring something to write with. The third rule was they needed to bring their notes from English class. In the end, I had about 25 students show up.

I guided my students through the process of writing letters by reviewing points we had already covered in class. I brought Jon with me to help with grammar and translation questions. I provided dictionaries so that students could be more independent and look things up on their own. Altogether, we spent about two hours working with the students and helping them develop letters and express themselves. The students had the name of the person they were writing to, the age range,sex, and occupation. Students requested specifically to write to girls or boys. After the session, I collected all their work and corrected it. I didn’t over-correct it because I want the students to gain confidence from writing letters. So, those of you receiving letters will still see grammatical errors, but only minor ones.

Pictures from Day 1:





On day 2, I returned their corrected work and let them review some of their mistakes. Much to the excitement and joy of my students, I bought them “cool'” stationary. A previous Peace Corps volunteer had recently returned to America and she gave me her old stationary. Some students chose to use this girly paper to write to their pen pal. Others chose to use just plain paper. And more entertainingly, I brought some of my own paper with my name on it to write on. They really wanted that.

We reviewed titles of people (this can often be found on their national examinations), how to address envelopes, and the students worked on writing their letters neatly. Much to my pleasure, when I asked students if they wanted to write additional letters to other people, there was an over joyous, collective YES! I only had one student who preferred to just write one letter and leave. As mentioned, I had over 40 requests for letters and only 25 Tanzanian students show up. As a result, most students wrote two letters and some even asked to write four.


I cannot express how great it is for my students to write so many letters. They were concentrating so hard and wrote so many letters that there is no doubt that these students will remember the various parts of a letter and grammar structure for sentences. The next day in class, I had a noticeable improvement in the understanding of format of letters in the students who wrote to friends around the world. It was very rewarding for me. I know it will be rewarding for the recipients, and my students will be enthralled when they get a response. Not only that, they are going to be so eager to understand the letter they get back, that it can only facilitate positive learning and further interest in English.

The last activity was showing a few students at a time how to address their envelopes correctly. One thing about my students is that they all want positive praise before moving on. Although they have already learned how to address envelopes and which title to use with which people, they want me to say “yes, that’s correct” before they write anything. Jon helped significantly with informing the students that their titles are correct. I then showed them on my computer how to write the last name of their pen pal and their pen pal’s address. Don’t worry – my students do not have anyone’s address.

In the end, I have to say that this project was the most rewarding thing I have done with my students. Thank you to everyone who is participating and I wish I could bottle up my student’s happiness in writing to you to show you. It was such a reassuring week when I got to work with these 25 students and watch them be so excited and happy to learn. I am excited to do it again when the responses start coming back. About half of the letters have already gone out in the mail. The second half will go out tomorrow morning. Thank you…ASANTE SANA!


a group of the letter writing students


a reminder on how we address envelopes (I teach British English, thus, the return address on the back of the envelope)


a finished letter


Students waiting to get their addresses from my computer database


They were equally as excited to see my computer than just to write letters!

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