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Jing Li on a Greenhills Pen Pal Program

In my Chinese 8 curriculum, there is a year-long pen pal program where my students have the opportunity to practice their Chinese through exchanging emails and video messages with native Chinese students from Aiguo School in Shanghai. The pen pal program not only allows students to practice their Chinese and learn Chinese culture in a more authentic, meaningful and challenging way, but also helps them gain global communication skills.

In order to make the program more effective and achieve desired outcomes, students are given different topics to prepare. These topics are chosen from the Chinese 8 curriculum, including but not limited to family, hobbies, food, leisure life, school life, weather, transportation, and festivals. Every one to two months, students first verbally exchange information with their foreign peers via a Swivl recording device, then they write in more detail about the topic through emails — click here to see an example. In the meanwhile, the teacher offers necessary guidance and support, then evaluates student performance based on whether they have followed the speaking and writing requirements, used correct grammar, and/or added personal details.  Performance can also be evaluated when students successfully receive verbal and written responses from their oversea peers.

I believe that the pen pal program is one of the most natural ways of producing language. Teachers not only can evaluate their own teaching, they also can analyze and summarize students’ common mistakes more accurately in a real-world setting. Teachers can also give students more focused and meaningful instructional drills and practice based on their mistakes to help students become more competent language learners. Therefore, the teaching becomes more meaningful and practical.

I also believe that the pen pal program creates a student-centered and task-based learning environment where students encounter a learning process of producing-inquiry-acquisition-reproducing. The student’s role is the central  in this learning environment. The teacher act as an assistant or facilitator. When a student leaves a video message or writes an email to a person who is real and is his/her own age, the learning becomes much more real life and turns into a process of making friends.

To see part of the program in action, click here to see  a video of Greenhills students speaking with their counterparts in Shanghai, then click here to see students in Shanghai speaking with their peers in Ann Arbor. 

— By Jing Li, Greenhills Modern and Classical Languages Department

Saturday, April 24
Open to anyone ages 16 and up. Limited quantities available.
Greenhills is closed for mid-winter break and will return on Tuesday, Feb. 22.