Do It Write

3, 4, 5
The classroom is matched up with another classroom 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.
Lesson Rating 
PrintTwo Forty-Five-Minute Class Periods
The learner will:
  • define community.
  • compare attributes of urban, rural and suburban areas.
  • locate pen pal's community on a map.
  • write a friendly letter to a pen pal.
  • communicate characteristics of place in writing.
  • use appropriate writing mechanics.
  • utilize the writing process.
  • compare the actual attributes of the pen pal’s community with predictions.
Teacher Note: Choose a pen pal classroom for your classroom in advance. Choose 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. Sample introduction: Third grade urban classroom is seeking pen pals in a rural setting interested in comparing characteristics of place. Our classroom is also looking for pen pals who are interested in planning and implementing a joint service-learning project.
  • The Country Mouse and City Mouse (see Bibliographical References)
  • Variety of paper, pencils, drawing materials
  • Large envelope and postage stamps
  • Camera
Home Connection 
Interactive Parent / Student Homework: Students can discuss this project at home and ask for suggestions from their 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 to the students the children’s story Country Mouse and City Mouse. Discuss the story with the students. Ask the students to 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.

    Day One:

  2. Tell the students that you have found a classroom in another community that would like to get to know this class through letters. Name the type of community (urban, rural or suburban) and find the location on a map. Ask the students to predict what their pen pals’ day and community might be like. (Allow their stereotypes—wear overalls, drive SUVs, friendly neighbors, cold weather—to be voiced, but do not allow them to be offensive or express ethnic, religious or racial prejudices.)

  3. Discuss the importance of respect for others. Remind students that they are only making predictions about their pen pals and they should not assume anything. They should show respect and tactful curiosity in their letters.

  4. 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 from their brainstorming, 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.

  5. Define community in the geographic sense—the town, city or county to which the students belong. Then define community as the degree that people come together for the common good. Discuss how the definitions overlap.

  6. 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.)

  7. Students use peer editing and the writing process to improve the quality of their letters. Final drafts should be turned in and checked by the teacher for spelling, sentence structure and neatness before they are sent in the mail.

  8. Day Two:

  9. When the students receive responses from their pen pals, allow them time to read them and share them with others in the class.

  10. As a whole class, look at the predictions they made about their pen pals from Day One. Go through the list one by one and have the students read their letters for hints that confirm or disprove their predictions. Encourage students to talk about their impressions now that they have heard from their pen pals.

  11. Make a list of ways that the pen pals are like them and ways they are different. (They take a bus to school. They play soccer. They like to eat hot dogs.) The students may find that many of their initial predictions were not accurate. This activity may give them ideas for other clarifying questions to ask their pen pals.

  12. Start the next set of letters right away while their enthusiasm is high. (See Lesson Two: Cans Make a Difference.)

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.