Do It Write

3, 4, 5

The classroom is matched up with another classroom (or any group of people) in the country or the world. The students communicate by letter or e-mail and compare characteristics of place such as methods of transportation, weather, resources, and culture. Students will eventually work with their pen pal classroom to design and implement a service project. 

Note: While this lesson was designed to partner students with other children who live in different communities, for those who are teaching virtually a possible adaptation is to partner students with other classes in your building as a way of building community locally.

PrintTwo Forty-Five-Minute Class Periods

The learner will:

  • define community and the attributes that make it unique. 
  • use appropriate writing mechanics for the age and location of their pen pals.
  • read aloud copy of the book The Country Mouse and City Mouse

Optional Books with Similar Themes:

  • “Same, Same but Different” by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw
  • “Whoever you Are” by Mem Fox
  • “The Love Letter” by Anika Aldamuy Denise
Teacher Preparation 

Choose a pen pal classroom for your classroom in advance. This may be a group of elderly residents locally or a classroom in a community that is very different from your own in climate, location and type (urban/rural/suburban). You can find some resources for classroom pen pals by doing a Google search with the key words “classroom pen pals.” In your introduction, find a teacher who is ultimately interested in doing a service-learning project with your class. 

Adaptation:  Whether teaching in person or in a virtual classroom, teachers can help support student self-regulation with the goal toward helping students manage big emotions and improving educational outcomes.

Home Connection 

Discuss this project at home and ask for suggestions from families. When the students receive their pen pal letters, allow them to bring the letters home to share. Encourage students to find out whether their parents/guardians had pen pals and how they met them. This could spark an interesting and meaningful discussion at home.

  • Brett, Jan. Town Mouse Country Mouse. Puffin, 2003. ISBN: 069811986X


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Read the story Country Mouse and City Mouse. Compare city life to country life as described in the book. Introduce the terms urban, rural and suburban. Ask the students to identify which term best describes their own community. Brainstorm a list of positive attributes and a list of negative attributes of living in each type of community. Save these lists.

    Suggestions for the Synchronous Online Classroom: 

    • Teachers share their screen with students to display the book “Town Mouse, Country Mouse”.  
    • Use video conferencing chat rooms for “turn and talk” discussions prior to whole class brainstorming as a way to increase student engagement.

    Suggestions for the Asynchronous Online Classroom:

    • In your Learning Management System (such as Google Classroom, Schoology, Moodle), teachers record themselves reading the book and talking about what a community is and the ways in which a classroom is a community.

    • In your Learning Management System, create an assignment in which students write to a designated pen pal. One suggestion is to have students write their introductory, first letter to a generic person (For example, “Dear Pen Pal”), in this way teachers can then have additional time to partner individual students with a Pen Pal.
    • Tell the students that you have found a classroom in another community that would like to get to know this class through letters. Discuss the importance of respect for others. They should show respect and tactful curiosity in their letters.
  2. Have the students write an introductory letter describing themselves, their interests, their schools, what they are learning, their favorite subject, their hobbies and their community. Students can include information, such as how they get to school, what they like to wear, what type of industry or natural resources are there, geography, weather/climate description, etc.

  3. Assign either a question or blog post for students to reflect on the prompt:  “A community is ‘a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.' Describe at least two different communities that you are a part of.  Be sure to explain what characteristics your community has in common."

  4. Take some photos of things that may help the pen pals visualize their community: the school, library, parks, recreation areas, downtown, etc. Include some photos in the envelope going to the pen pals. Students may include a photograph or drawing of themselves. (Some teachers may prefer to leave personal pictures out so students are not prejudiced by appearances in their initial impressions. When they get to know and like each other, they can share pictures.)

  5. If using a shared document system, such as Google docs, peer editing is still possible.  Teachers can partner students and invite them to collaborate on writing either in Video Conferencing breakout rooms or by adding comments to their peer’s letter.  Read Write Think has a great peer editing worksheet that can be used as a model for collaboration.

  6. On another day: When the students receive responses from their pen pals, allow them time to read them and share them with others in the class. Encourage students to talk about their first impressions now that they have heard from their pen pals. Discuss how first impressions can be wrong, so they may ask respectful questions to learn more and share more about themselves.

    Start the next set of letters right away while their enthusiasm is high. 

  7. Suggestions for the Synchronous Online Classroom - 

    • Use breakout rooms in your Video Conferencing platform to have students share what they learned about their Pen Pals.
    • Teachers share their screen with students to collaborate on the creation of a whole class Venn Diagram analyzing the similarities and differences between the different classrooms.

    Suggestions for the Asynchronous Online Classroom - 

    • In your Learning Management System (such as Google Classroom, Schoology, Moodle), assign either a question or blog post for students to reflect on what they learned about their Pen Pal.  In what ways are students similar to or different from their Pen Pals.
    • Consider using Seesaw or Flipgrid as possible platforms to have students create video letters to their Pen Pals.

Writing assignments will be checked for spelling, sentence structure and neatness. Did each letter contain at lest two descriptions (climate/routines/attributes) of their community? Assess student contributions, enthusiasm and reflections.

Cross Curriculum 

None for this lesson.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 02. Diverse Cultures
      1. Benchmark E.2 Discuss the importance of respect for others.
      2. Benchmark E.4 Demonstrate listening skills.
    2. Standard PCS 04. Philanthropy and Geography
      1. Benchmark E.3 Describe the "characteristics of place" related to the school and neighborhood.
    3. Standard PCS 05. Philanthropy and Government
      1. Benchmark E.1 Define community as the degree that people come together for the common good.
      2. Benchmark E.7 Describe why the classroom, school, or neighborhood is a community governed by fundamental democratic principles.