The Pen Pal Project

The Pen Pal Project




Late August



“Letter writing is becoming a lost art,” said Mrs. Olson, standing in front of the 8th grade English class. “Between using email and sending instant messages to contact friends, most students never find themselves with any reasons to write real letters any more. This class will solve that problem this year.”

Christy Phillips raised her eyebrows. Letters? Christy knew all about boring old letters. Christy had spent her entire life as a military brat. Whenever she finally made a few good friends, they almost always moved away. The times the friends did not move away, it was Christy herself that moved.

Christy had learned that her friends usually promised to write letters regularly when they moved, but it never worked. Sometimes they did write once or twice, but the exchange of letters did not last very long. After a few letters back and forth, kids always made new friends and lost interest in writing.

“Pen pals might start out excited about the idea, but they always seem to lose interest in writing,” Mrs. Olson continued. “Several times, we have had units that require students to mail letters to people, but often the people receiving the letters do not write back.”

Christy sat up straighter in her seat. Now Mrs. Olson was making sense. Spending her free time writing a letter and then receiving no answer back at all was no fun. Christy was interested in hearing how Mrs. Olson was going to solve THAT one.

“This will solve that problem,” announced Mrs. Olson. She held up a cardboard box.

It just looked like a heavier version of one of those boxes that the department stores used for gift-wrapping shirts to Christy. How was a cardboard box going to make somebody write back?

Sitting behind Christy, her friend Bjorn snickered. “Is she going to hit them with the box if they don’t write back?” whispered Bjorn.

Mrs. Olson heard him. Instead of getting angry, she just smiled. “No, Bjorn,” she said, picking up her grade book. “We will hit them with THIS instead. It is a joint project between two different school classes, and this time, the pen pal letters are part of their English grade, too.”

This project might work, thought Christy. Mrs. Olson explained that both classes will write letters once a week and both teachers would get copies of the letters to grade. Teachers loved to grade stuff, thought Christy.

Christy was relieved to hear that the copies would be something the teachers did on the copier. It would be awful if they had to copy the same letter over and over! Since these letters were a required part of their class work, then Christy figured she would at least get one answered letter back.

“The original letters will go between the pen pals,” explained Mrs. Olson. “All corrections are made on the two copies. That way, you will also get the chance to see how two different teachers make their corrections.” She nodded at the class. “You may begin now.”

Christy stared at the blank sheet of paper in front of her. Mrs. Olson certainly did not waste any time. Now Christy was supposed to instantly have something interesting to say in a letter to a girl she had never met, in a town she had never heard of?

On the chalkboard, Mrs. Olson wrote:

Who you are

How you got to school

What you are wearing

One question about their school

One fact about your school


Why not? Thought Christy. This was easy enough.


Christy Phillips

Erik Hill Middle School

Minot, North Dakota


Patty Garcia

Kennedy Middle School

Albuquerque, New Mexico


August 23

Dear Patty,


Hi. How are you? I am fine.


Lame start, thought Christy. But how else can you begin a letter? Especially a letter to a stranger, and all she knew about Patty was her name and the fact that she was also in an English class. Christy was glad she had drawn the name of another girl from the box. It would have been even harder to think up something to say to a strange boy.

“Maybe that list from Mrs. Olson of stuff to include in the letter was a good idea after all,” whispered Christy, turning her head towards Bjorn.

Bjorn nodded in agreement. “I don’t know this guy at all.”

Christy turned back to her letter. OK, she thought, just answer these questions and finish before time runs out. It was weird to think that Patty was writing the same letter at the same time, but that made it more exciting, too.


I am Christy Phillips and I am in the 8th grade at Erik Hill Middle School. I had to walk to school today, because it was not cold out. I only get a ride to school if it is really cold or if it is raining.

I am wearing my new red shirt and a pair of new jean shorts. It is the first day of school here, and it is going to get hot today.

When does your school start? We start at 8:45 here, unless you have band. If you have band, you have to start school at 7:30. Are you in band? I am not very musical, so I don’t play in band or the orchestra. I don’t even sing in the choir.


“Five minute warning, so finish up your letters,” announced Mrs. Olson.

The class groaned. Christy was glad to see that when she looked around the room, nobody else seemed to have much longer of a letter written than she did.


Our teacher is Mrs. Olson, and she said we have to end here. Write back soon!



Christy Phillips