Annual Giving

Pen Pal Project Helps Students Build Relationships Through Writing

A writing lesson involving pen pals encourages students to express themselves.

writing lesson

Students sort through Smokey Bear souvenirs from pen pals in New Mexico.

April 23, 2014 (TAMPA, Fla.) – Students today are growing up communicating via e-mail, text and video, but Corbett Prep’s third and fourth graders are finding value in classic written letters as well.

“All Star” class members at Corbett Preparatory School of IDS became pen pals to students in California and New Mexico this year, an exercise in writing and discovery. The Corbett Prep students reached out first in the fall, sending rubber band bracelets with their letters. They were thrilled to receive responses this month.

In a time when so much communication is online, teachers Ann Cashen and Carmyn Samuel wanted to return to letter-writing to teach students about how to write friendly correspondence. The writing lesson’s letter format gave another relevant avenue to express themselves and encouraged them to ask questions of their pen pals.

“You build a relationship with back-and-forth,” Cashen said.

The writing lesson also prompted discussions about geography as students compared and contrasted their lifestyles in Florida to how their pen pals lived. The Santa Rosa, California, school that Corbett Prep connected with includes many students who are just learning English, and the letter exchange helped those students practice their writing. From New Mexico, students sent Smokey Bear crafts that they had made and souvenirs because Capitan, New Mexico, is the birthplace of the famous fire-prevention mascot.

Many of the Capitan Elementary fourth graders are familiar with Florida from trips to Disney World or the beaches, said Capitan teacher Betsy Peralta. They love hearing about Florida’s warmth — especially when they are experiencing snowstorms — and are interested in life in the city, because Capitan is a rural area about three hours from Albuquerque.

Capitan Elementary differs from Corbett Prep, the students learned, because of its four-day school week. Children attend classes from 7:50 a.m. until 4 p.m. to reduce transportation costs. The area is so rural some students are bused from as far as 50 miles away. Many of the students also come from families who ranch or farm, Peralta said, and the four-day schedule allows them to help care for the animals.

writing lesson

Ann Cashen and a student look over the letter she received.

At Corbett Prep, mail day drew excitement as students picked up their letters from teachers and eagerly opened them to learn more about their pen pals.

They rushed to their friends to share what they had uncovered:

“My girl lives on a farm!”
“He plays basketball and golf.”
“She asked me if I lived on a ranch.”
“Her favorite color is ‘every color.’”
“Mine is awesome — her house is purple.”

Maya, a fourth grader, had written to her pen pal about her favorite activities, favorite foods and the weather. Hearing back from her pen pal was “so cool,” she said. She could tell how much time her pen pal had put into the response.

“Letters have more thought,” Maya said.

Haruka, who is in fourth grade, liked the feel of a letter. Receiving a letter is a different experience than reading an e-mail off the computer, she said.

“You can take it home and bring it back,” she said.

writing lesson
writing lesson
writing lesson
writing lesson
writing lesson


Founded in 1968, Corbett Preparatory School of IDS (formerly Independent Day School - Corbett Campus) is a fully accredited, nonsectarian private school located in Tampa’s Carrollwood neighborhood. The school serves over 500 students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade and offers the International Baccalaureate program of study for all students. Teachers are endorsed in gifted education through a master’s level grant with the University of South Florida College of Education. Corbett Prep balances a dynamic, nurturing and safe learning environment with high standards and high expectations to develop a positive approach to life and learning. Corbett Prep has become recognized as an exemplary school with over 7,000 visitors observing and learning from Corbett Prep teachers. For more information, visit or contact the Admissions Office at (813) 961-3087.