Writing across the world: Rome, Kazakh ESOL students use letters to learn English

In the age of video chats, email and instant messaging, there’s something to be said about sitting down to write a letter, especially when it will end up across the globe in Kazakhstan.

Though aided by some technology — scanning their letters and emailing them — West Central Elementary second-graders in the English to Speakers of Other Languages program are exploring this communication form of old with their new second-grade pen pals in Kazakhstan.

“They don’t know what you’re saying if you have messy handwriting,” ESOL teacher Allison Skeen tells her students, who are Spanish speakers learning English, one recent morning.

The connection was made between Skeen and former West Central teacher Lucy Babcock, who left to teach overseas following a reduction in force by Rome City Schools several years ago. After teaching in Abu Dhabi, she landed in the central Asian country’s largest city Almaty in August of 2014, at an international school. Skeen recalled staying in touch with Babcock through Facebook and thought a pen pals project, to practice writing and English proficiency, would be an engaging activity and lesson for her and Babcock’s students, along with ESOL teacher Eileen Galang’s second-graders as well.

“My second-graders have many mother tongues: Just in second grade we have Turkish, Kazakh, Russian, Arabic, English, German and Hindi speakers,” Babcock said. “So by writing pen pal letters, they practice proper English grammar and the correct way to write a friendly letter.”

With the first letters from West Central, there were pictures included for Babcock’s students to get a sense of their pen pals.

“It was very exciting when we received our first letters,” Babcock said. “We had a special language arts class where we looked at the letters and shared them with our friends.”

Skeen’s students sat on the carpet while she used the SMART board to go through pictures of Babcock’s school on its Facebook page, telling them about the country and school. She handed out clipboards for students to write on, and the students thought over what to ask their peers.

With an 11 hour time difference video chats aren’t a possibility, but Babcock said she is hoping to send a video of her students. The lifelong Rome resident also said the project is exciting for her as it presents an opportunity for her to share about her cherished hometown.



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