EFL ESL website
to do a 'key-pal' exchange.
If you're like me you've
realized that with the net and email, you could definitely do some sort
of project where you have EFL learners from different countries write
to eachother. This kind of thing would blow any textbook out of the
water because the students would really be communicating, negotiating meaning,
and the content
would most likely be about cultural differences, or country
characteristics, exactly what English is for! Well, low and
behold, somebody's allready thought of this and as a matter of fact
there are teachers all over the world waiting to do it with you! I had
a chance to do it last year in the computer lab at my high school and
here are some pointers I found.
The first thing you will have to do is help the students set up
web-mail account. It is pretty straightforward but you may have to help
the students who have difficulty. I prefer yahoo because it doesn't
quickly dissappear without use like hotmail, and if they were to use
this abroad, it would still be able to handle the Japanese characters
without a special computer.
Make sure they
get an address that is more than 8 or so characters long
otherwise they will get flooded with spam. A fellow teacher came up
with the great idea of having the students include their class and
student number as part of their name. So, a student named Taro Yamada,
student number 12 in class 3 would make the address:
firstname.lastname@example.org This served 2 purposes: the senders of mails
were easy to identify by the teacher, and the students would tend not
to forget the newly made address either.
After that, you need to get the students a mail partner by
making contact with a teacher that has the same idea as you. There are
sites especially for this (see links below) Go to the sites, register
messages on the site's BBS. The
responses from interested teachers come to you VIA the site and then
you reply via the site. I
guess this stops prankers or perverts. You gotta be really aggressive
about posting and reposting on the sites because after a couple of days
your post gets scrolled down and nobody looks at it. Also you should
the teachers who posted and look like they have suitable
classes and wait to see who writes back. You can't count on a
reply so you have to play the odds without worrying about
over-extending yourself. You need to repeat the posting and mailing
about once a week until you get enough students. After you get some
contact and decide the other teacher is for real you exchange email
addresses and start talking without the messages being relayed by the
Things to think about:
How many students does the teacher have for you?
What is the age group?
How often do the students go to the Computer lab?
What is the aim of their class?
If you make the numbers match and the other classes level of
English, and purpose for the class is appropriate
then you have to test the commitment of the teacher. The other teacher
will need to send you a list of students' email addresses to make this
work right and because this takes some time to type out on the computer
a lot of teachers will try to get out of doing it. Some of the
less experienced teachers will just figure if you have your
students mail them (the teacher) directly, they can then just forward
the mails to the
students at their end. This doesn't work. The next thing you know the
students from the other country are sending you mails by the dozen
asking you to forward them to your students and you'll be clicking and
typing forever. Another problem with this is if the other class doesn't
send letters right away, you can't write to them from your end as a
strike because you don't have any addresses!
So you need to get a list of the other students' addresses
you start. This list should also have a Mr, or Ms next to the Students
name so you can match girls with girls and boys with boys as much as
possible ( some cultures are sensitive about this). Once you have the
list you can make another list with the partner school's
students matched, and mail that list to the other teacher. Now you have
a base to start from and all your students have an address to mail to.
Getting the teacher on the other end to actually make that list is
sometimes tough because they are so busy but it's the only way to make
The next problem that occurs is that the other students
aren't regular about replying so you'll find some of your students dead
in the water not having received a letter in a month. At this
point what I did was double layer the process. I got 2 students from 2
different countries for each of my students. That way, odds were that
they would get at least one letter a week. Even so, one or 2 students
were unlucky and got 2 deadbeats from 2 different countriesc
Now that the hard part is done you can just cruise for a while
which will be very welcome because this set-up part is a hassle!
There are a few different ways of giving a framework for what type of
letters the students should write. One is a downloadable format for
this type of exchange called 'The image of the other' (Link Below),
which sets a series of inquiries for the students to ask about family,
school, house, etc that is designed to highlight lifestyle differences
at a very down-to-earth level. It also has some good sentence formats
for writing letters like this and a sharp student could craft a mail
using a lot of the language in there.
Another, perhaps more student-centered way to decide letter
themes is to simply have selected students come up to the board and
write a suggestion for a letter theme, and then vote on which one
looked best. This worked nicely for me, and since everybody was writing
on the same theme (ex. kimonos), they could colaborate a little with
eachother on the difficult to explain parts.
So after they had been doing that for 2 months or so I had them
write a report about what they had found out, and about the lives of
Also, in order to make a test I collected sentences from my
students describing something interesting they had found out about the
target country, compiled them into a print to pass out and then made it
into a listening test.
It was really a wonderful activity. For most students, it was
the first time they had actually used English for an authentic
communicative purpose, and the time they had to prepare the mails gave
them footing and confidence that they would be understood. They were,
and I still ocassionaly hear of students who continued the
communication far after the class project was over. One, I remember
actually went to Korea and met her Key-Pal!
click on IECC, I had to post messages a couple of times, and in a
couple of places but I got 4, or 5 happening from this site.
also check out
They offered to make me a member at one point. It sounded
as if they would act as a middle-man and take care of all the matching
process hassle, possibly a nice idea. They charge money to the class in
the US. but not to us foriegners. They also do some Art/Music exchange
@@This site has a whole format about how to do this type of exchange.
Each letter format has a specific goal in terms of what to ask, and
it's all online. The student can borrow sentences from the format and
adapt them to their mail. It is called@ethe image of the otherf and is
a guide for this kind of cross-cultural key-pal exchange.