Penpal Writing: Free Brainstorming Sheet

Writing letters can be considered a lost art, but it is important to teach students how to write a proper letter. A letter (even if it is in the form of an email) is needed when applying to jobs, writing to government advocating for change, and used to write to family and friends.

This year, our class is writing to a class in Virginia (a teacher and I connected on a CEC forum and she asked if we would be penpals) and we are writing to a girl I support in Mozambique, Africa. I decided to have my students write to students in the United States and outside the United States to broaden my students’ perspective. For the letter to the class in Virginia, my students were given more models and support. For the letter to the girl in Mozambique, less support and guidance was given. Typically, when I teach a particular type of writing, I have my students write two copies. The first prompt with a lot of teacher guidance, models, and visual supports and the second prompt with the same models and visuals support, but without the direct teacher guidance.

elementary, writing ideas

In Mozambique, schools look a lot different than here in the US. Students do not have the same access to books, writing supplies, school buildings, and at times, even teachers. Children in Mozambique sometimes need to drop out of school to help their families make money. My students are writing to a girl named Emily who is around their age. They are interested to know how Emily’s life is different from their life and how her life is similar to theirs. We cannot wait to get a letter back from Emily! Our letters to her are shown above.  I included a free writing brainstorming sheet for writing to a penpal. This brainstorming sheets provide students step by step directions.

Spelling Word Practice

Practice makes perfect, especially when it comes to spelling words. Instead of boring repetition drills or using the outdated method of writing something 100 times, there are many activities students can participate in to practice weekly spelling words.

To start, I downloaded a great resource from teacherpayteacher that guides students to trace, write, build, find and use their spelling word in a sentence. Then, I have students use magnetic foam alphabet blocks and dry erase markers to write and build their words three more times during a rotating center.

elementary, early, dolch sight words

To reinforce the skills with an adult, my students can then practice writing their words in sand while saying the word and each letter of the word out loud.

activities, elementary, writing, learning

For homework, students can choose from a variety of activities that reinforces the words at home. Here are some ideas below:

  • Write the word 3x times using pencil, colored pencil, and crayon
  • Write the words in rainbow colors
  • Write the words in ABC order
  • Write a sentence for each word
  • Write or type a story using all your spelling words
  • Stamp the words
  • Build the words with legos, clay, dough, yarn or pipecleaners
  • String the words together using letter beads
  • Write the words in a verticle pyramid format. For example: l, lo, lov, love
  • Practice building the words using magnetic letter blocks
  • Type spelling words on the computer
  • Spell words in a sand or salt container
  • Trace words on the back of your hand
  • Spell words in shaving cream
  • Trace letters into the air (sky write)
  • Use ABC blocks to spell words (Scrabble)
  • Build words using ABC stickers
  • Use q-tips and paint words
  • Write words in glue and add glitter
  • Use newspaper and magazine to clip letters to build words

We use a spelling notebook to keep track of their progress and their words. All words are individualized so a spelling book helps everyone stay organized. Please feel free to use some of these ideas in your classroom! 🙂 Enjoy!


Teaching the 5 Literary Elements

“Plot, Character, Conflict, Theme, Setting…” An interactive Prezi presentation that teaches the five literary elements through style and song.

Recommended Use: 3rd to 8th grade (Applicable in high school for some students/settings)


Other video resources can be found on BrainPop.

Ideas Transform Education and Individuals

One of my reflections from my Arts in the City Class: 

Ideas transform human beings. We must question if our education system and society create spaces for new ideas to be fostered, and if Western culture truly values the creativity of another human being. Do we encourage people to incorporate using their imagination, reason, and conscious when problem solving? Do we give time for people to actually think issues out? Instead of engaging these 3 receptors of goodness, beauty and truth, decisions are made on a whim since Corporate American and government generally move too fast to consider careful reflection and analysis.

When we realize that ideas have consequences and shape the way one views themselves and their relation to the world, we start to care about the ideas that are being taught to our students. I feel our education system and society does not do the best job in creating communities that foster ideas since most people get stuck doing the same job or task over and over, and are not given the time to create and be. In the sake of “being practical”, ideas that don’t directly relate to the problem or situation before us are largely discarded. It seems we are too busy as a culture to simply sit, be, and create. Instead of focusing on quality ideas, we generally settle for quantity since Western cultures holds onto the idea that more is better.

When the speaker brought up the story of Helen Keller in the Recovering Goodness, Beauty, and Truth lecture, I was struck with how the gift of symbols opened up Keller’s world and awakened something within her soul. Although Keller could only experience the world through 2 senses, touch and smell; she was alive to the beauty of the world. We read her sensations and experiences throughout her books as Keller revels in the beauty found around her and appreciates the wonder of the world. What she has is truly a gift since she was able to see the beauty in the world, despite her inability to see or hear.

Since humans are constantly trying to understand the meaning of life, we have the potential to create a world as we imagine it. Many times, people do not put enough emphasize on their personal responsibility of contributing to society since they do not see the world as interconnected. When one starts to takes ownership of one’s life and future, internal freedom is experienced, although external freedom may be limited by the choices of others. Consequently, we may find ourselves disappointed when we see a gap between the ideal and the point at which we find ourselves. How we handle this dissatisfaction will determine how we live our lives and what we take away from our experiences. By being careful not to be lost in the general, we take care of our human nature by exerting our free will within the limits of our imagination. We have control to see the world as we wish, and live out our ideal beliefs through art, action, and discussions with others.

Incorporating Art into Curriculum



A lot of times, teachers struggle incorporating art into curriculum. One way to engage students is by having students tour their city, town, and surrounding area for public displays of art. By having students take pictures of public displays of art, students can then describe the piece and explain how the art affects the community and space. After, the teacher can lead the students in creating a class scrapbook with the written descriptions on the side. Here is one picture our class found this afternoon.

The Beauty in the Writing Struggle

One of the best classes I am currently taking at Gordon College is Arts in the City. Here is one of my reflection papers in response to the reading: The Invisible Embrace: BEAUTY by John O’Donohue. I hope you can find some inspiration in this piece as you think of ways to help struggling writers. Please feel free to share your thoughts!

I stink at writing. Everything in me screams when I am asked to write a long, extensive research paper. Although I willingly put myself in these situations in the hope that the struggle will fade, I repeatedly feel defeated, frustrated, and utterly down on myself for not completing the assignment as I wish. While reading, The Invisible Embrace: BEAUTY by John O’Donohue, the quote “when we lose site of beauty our struggles become tired and functional” really struck a cord since I often lose site of the world and myself when I write. My focus strictly becomes the struggle and my inability to express as I wish. For me, the beauty in writing doesn’t exist simply because I feel I am not good at it.

Since I was a little girl, I have always tried to combat this by searching for the magic answer that would get me out of this writing funk (or at least the negative feelings I attach to writing). Although I know I can never truly solve all my problems with writing, I was impressed when O’Donohue mentioned how we can overcome the lost of beauty with courage. Defining courage as “tapping in to the heart of fear and taking that frightened energy and turning it towards initiative, creativity, action, and hope,” I started reflecting in how I can use this to change my attitude toward writing. With this definition, I start to slowly see my struggle as beautiful and unleashing since I am conscious of the place my heart is leaning towards. When we move from the place of fear and into the mindset of Beauty, one can invite any difficultly and find a way to call it beautiful, although it may be challenging. Both readings suggests that Beauty is possible, even in the midst of an intense struggle.

Another great point the text made was seeing beauty as something that “calls us out of ourselves”, and “appeals to feelings deep within us”. If we define beauty in this way, I can again call writing beautiful since it appeals to the deepest feelings in me. Although these feelings are not positive, the writing process opens the insecurities of my heart and brain. If I approach these insecurities with grace and love, I can find this process potentially healing and even holy, if I long for the simple and complex answers to my struggle and my identity.