The Book Report Pen Pal

Pen Pal= Letter 1 Hello Everyone, I had a pretty enjoyable weekend. I sat down, finished my homework and I was reading a great book too. What’s Under Your Cape? by Barbara Gruener. What a great book, as I reported the last week how much Teach Like a Pirate really sparked my inspiration again, I have to say that Barbara’s book really drove what I love to do when it comes to teaching in the classroom. I will admit, I am not a classroom teacher, I don’t have a full class, I run the Tech Club at my school but I mentor 8 students and I mentor all of my teachers and administration when it comes to technology in the classroom. However, what really sparked my inspiration by Barb was in Chapter 7 “E is for Enthusiasm”. How did this chapter get me going? Well, once a upon a time I was a 5th grader (I know hard to believe I was a 5th grader 25 years ago). I had a new teacher, Mrs. Larson, she would be the second teacher I would have named Larson for the next 7 years. She was in her early 30s and was new to my school. She liked to do things differently than most teachers I had the last few years. One her biggest changes was how we would do book reports every quarter. In the spring of 1989 she wanted us to write a letter to one of our classmates about the book we read. She said we had to write it like our classmate was a Pen Pal and you were telling them about a great book your read and they would do the report for us in the classroom.

This really took us by surprised, from working mobiles to dressing up as characters from our books to doing a puppet show. This was really different but we really thought it was a great idea. I chose the book, A Horse of her own by Annie Wedekind and after finishing the book, I sat home one night after dinner and crafted a makeshift letter made out of construction paper and stamped it with some horse shoes on it. I then packaged it, put it in a large legal envelope and dropped it in my classroom mail Mrs. Larson made for the class 3 days before the reports were do. The first day of letter reading, I was chosen at random and I read the fourth report which was New Friends (Peanut Butter and Jelly) by Dorothy Haas. I have to admit I could see how much my classmate enjoyed the book, the letter actually looked like a sandwich and opened up like one with the report on all three pieces. I was trying not to laugh as I read it to the class. A couple days later, my classmate read mine and also tried to keep a straight face since he saw where I put the stamps on it. Long story short, we all loved it and we all hit full points on our reports.

Now, coming back to now after reading What’s Under your Cape? and reading the part out of Teach like a Pirate about the Story Telling Hook brings us to using this same idea 25 years with your classroom:

1. If you are a tech classroom you can go as basic as having students type up an email but this can’t be just a few short sentences. One thing that is great about student and classroom email these days is a word count, you have to tell your students back when we would write letters to our friends long before Facebook and email and instant messaging was around, we would write out 2-3 pages about how everything was going. Student have to write at least up to 350 words depending on their grade level. This might seem like a lot to them but when they practice regular grammar mechanics, this is about teaching not only how to write a book report to a friend but also structure in how you write a report and letter.

2. If you want to go the next step with a PowerPoint to a classmate, you have a plethora of Apps to use from Keynote to Google Slides. Have students create their report on 12 slides or less. Hit the main points and what they thought about the story and have the student who is the receiver of the PowerPoint present it. No two students present the same, its a real way to do an unofficial group activity. Have one student create and the other presents but they don’t get a lot of prep time. For PowerPoint book report exchange, the student only gets that class period to present, so 5 minute prep time to see how the transitions work and to skim over the report before they give their report.

3. Don’t have a lot of tech to use in the classroom no problem do how I learned to write a Pen Pal book report, students are given a few days to write their letter to their classmate. They can do almost anything with the letter, make up a fancy post card, put together a care package with various pieces from the story in it. One I knew happened a year later after I was a proud 6th grader was a student who read Rabbit Hill and put some pieces of hay and a little toy ball in a mini package that contained the book report letter.

4. I thought about this one while I was pulling weeds out of the backyard this afternoon. Have a student be the human mailer using a Makey Makey to the planned recipient. The student doing the email to the other student needs to send the letter, there is a middle man or woman to the process. They have to connect a Makey Makey to email the letter to the other person. They work like an old fashion operator. They ask who the email is for and then have them connect their computer through the email keyboard using a simple cut out board for the enter button. Once they send the email out, have the other student say: “Yes, I have received my letter, thank you.” This teaches students that sending letters involves a 3rd party delivering the letter whether its snail mail or electronic. Its pretty fun.

There are a few ways to make a Book Report Pen Pal in the classroom. Give a try this school year.

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