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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Real-Life Lit: Pen Pals Share Books -- and the Love of Books

In2Books revives the ancient arts of reading and writing.
Cheri Lucas
Former editorial assistant for Edutopia.
Credit: Hugh D’Andrade

In an age of emails, cell phones, and instant messages, mailboxes seem to yield only bills and junk mail. The In2Books literacy program hopes to change that by reviving a disappearing rite of childhood: exchanging letters with pen pals.

In2Books works with students in grades 2-5 in Washington, DC, building literacy skills through its reading and pen pal program. Each student is assigned a screened adult who volunteers as a literary correspondent and is given five books during the year. Together, the pairs exchange six letters: one to introduce themselves and five others about what they read.

Books in each of the five "cycles" explore a different genre. After reading a biography, for instance, kids may write to their mentors about setting goals and pursuing dreams. A social studies title, on the other hand, could provoke reflections on the idea of community and how kids can contribute to theirs.

Peeking into a mailbox and finding a letter from a pen pal is thrilling for a child, fostering an appreciation for self-expression and sparking connections with faraway communities. But founder and chair Nina Zolt is also attuned to the iPod generation's love of the online world. The program will also offer a dressed-up, all-digital version, complete with online tutorials and resources, for the 2006-2007 school year that will expand nationally. "In2Books will integrate digital literacy with traditional literacy," says Zolt.

The cool curriculum will continue sending copies of books to kids, of course, because turning the pages of a book is the best part of the experience. Plus, "In2Email" doesn't really have the proper ring to it.

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Jamie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think this is a wonderful program. How exciting to receive your very own mail. The individual attention this allows will do wonders for self confidence. Children will not be intimidated by having to share their personal thoughts in front of a group. They will learn to look at things from someone elses point of view as well as learning to value their own opinions. I cannot wait to share this article with my fellow teachers.

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