The more knowledgeable children become about the world and its cultures, languages, and people, the more prepared they will be to lead and thrive in our interconnected world. What better way to accomplish this than through cultural exchange, both in-person and virtually? Our international educators regularly plan classroom-to-classroom exchanges between their students and students in their home countries. Whether you are a novice or experienced at setting up classroom-to-classroom connections, here are five tips to ensure your success.
1. Create affinity groups by student age and interests.
As you consider setting up your virtual classroom exchange, try to connect with a classroom of students who are a similar age. Doing this ensures that students will relate more deeply and have similar interests. Encourage your students to consider the interests of their new exchange friends with questions like: What happens on a typical school day? What do they like to do after school? What are some traditions they observe with their families during holidays? Allowing students to ask questions and relate to others their age will promote understanding and curiosity each time they meet someone new. Not sure where to begin? Our United We Teach community of practice has discussion groups for classroom-to-classroom connections that are segmented into four age groups. Go here to post a request for a global classroom connection with another educator and their class.
2. Find the common ground.
No matter what age you are able to connect with, it’s important that students find a common ground to relate to. After the exchange is over, do a compare-and-contrast Venn diagram activity as a class to explore differences and things that students had in common. Activities like classroom-to-classroom exchanges invite students to be curious about other people and the way they live, while also encouraging empathy for others. They help set an attitude that differences are exciting to learn about, not something to be afraid of. Exploring these topics with students allows them to have real-life examples of interactions with people from around the world and see fresh perspectives from students outside of their immediate communities.
3. Plan ahead of time with the other teacher.
Planning ahead of time with the other teacher will go a long way toward making your classroom-to-classroom exchange a success. Once you have the teacher’s contact information, reach out and decide together if the exchange will be a one-time activity or an ongoing partnership throughout the school year. Setting that expectation will help you give the right message to your students, who will probably be very excited about the exchange once you tell them! If you are preparing a synchronous video exchange, try to plan a test call from your classroom with the exchange partner so that you can ensure that the technology is working as expected. Doing this ahead of time will give you time to discuss and plan a backup activity just in case.
4. Choose an exchange method that suits you and your students.
Generally, there are two options for classroom-to-classroom exchanges: synchronous, or live exchanges, and asynchronous, where students are communicating at different times. While a live exchange can be exciting for students, some educators will find it limits their ability to connect, especially considering differences in time zones. Asynchronous exchanges, such as recorded video exchanges or pen pals, allow students to communicate in their own time, and are best if you will partner students individually with other students in the exchange. Many educators find that doing a kick-off activity as a group using a live video exchange works well to start. Then they continue asynchronously throughout the rest of the semester using email pen pals, a video sharing tool like Flipgrid, or physical mail to exchange letters. As you choose a method, consider what will keep your students engaged and the ways they learn best.
5. Stay optimistic in the face of issues.
Despite the best-laid plans, unfortunately technology problems will still happen, sometimes at the worst times! Use these moments to teach your students by example as you stay cool, calm, and collected when the activity does not go as planned. Are you unable to connect live with the other classroom due to connectivity issues? Have students pair up and write out questions for the class that you can use when the activity is rescheduled. Is your incoming package of pen pal letters delayed in the mail? Ask your partner teacher to record a short video with their class and share it with students while you wait. No matter what happens with your activities, having an optimistic attitude will help students remember the experience positively and help them look forward to future exchanges.
At Participate Learning, we believe that global learning enriches us all by preparing future leaders to positively impact the world by solving issues together. Connecting students from around the world boosts curiosity and empathy in your students, while also exposing them to cultures and ways of life that may be different from their own experiences. Go here for specific examples of activities you could complete during a classroom-to-classroom exchange, or learn more about the impact of international educators in the classroom here.