I work as an English teacher in Bucharest and this year I only teach private lessons, in one-to-one sessions. Sometimes I found it challenging to give my young students a true motivation for learning English other than “mommy wants me do learn this”. Some of them do not have the opportunity to speak English to anyone but me and will not use the language in any real life situation any time soon. The only practice they get is in their lessons with me and at school so it is not surprising that some of them may feel that English is just something that happens in a closed room, with strict rules. Although I try to keep things fun, even my most well-behaved students will get bored of playing with me from time to time. So I came up with the idea of a pen-pal system. My learners live far apart from each other, they are of different ages and levels but most are curious to know what other kids I am teaching, what they are doing in the lessons. So I speculated this curiosity and told them that if they want to know anything about the other kids I teach they should write to them and ask them. I do not correct their spelling or any other language issues in the letters as long as the message is clear because I do not want this to be seen as just another exercise we do in the lesson. The results are more than I expected. All kids, from the age of 5 to the age of 15 are eager to get new letters and to reply. The system is so interesting to them also because most of them have never had the experience of actual paper mail before. I always have sealed envelopes in my bag to carry from one kid to the next. They feel that they are part of something, of this nice group of kids who have many things in common with them, not just their English teacher. This is how I played with Belonging and managed to create a micro-community of the most diverse of learners and I am very happy to be able to share this experience.
This brief presentation of one of my “teaching tools” was written as part of the course Learning Mindsets and Skills, on the Coursera platform.