Connecting Characters Across Classrooms – Connecting classrooms across the world with travel buddies in literacy projects

So what are Classroom Travel Buddies? Well, a project which can help connect classrooms around the world, or which can help pupils make the connection with other parts of the world, can be one which involves a character which goes on a journey from the classroom. This can be a soft-toy character or one which is made by the pupils (a drawing perhaps shared online). The pupils feeling attachment to that character of their choice, and then seeing the photographs, messages and involvement of others with whom they have a connection, is what perhaps helps pupils develop an empathy with, and greater understanding of, what it’s like to be living in another part of the world. And at the same time teacher experiences have shown that the pupil engagement with such a project, and awareness of a real audience in another classroom, provides additional motivation to produce greater quantity and quality of work. Click here also to see one definition of Global Citizenship from Oxfam, which a project like this could help support.

A class can choose their own character – perhaps a topical character (such as one asociated with an event or a current television series) or a soft-toy animal which might reflect their geographical area (Highland Cow, sheep, puppy, etc – a visit to a local tourist shop can sometimes provide ideas).

Then the pupils could make up a profile for their character – perhaps giving it a name and “back-story.” Then the journal of your class character begins. It might first go on visits with the individual members of the class themselves (as a way of the new class getting to know each other at the start of a new school year perhaps). The pupils would have their photograph taken with the character and write about whare they were and what they were doing. This can be done in paper/diary form or can make use of a shared online space, such as a class blog. How much is written will depend on the age of the pupils and the intended purpose of the writing. With the involvement of a character with which the pupils can identify (and onto which they may also more readily project some of their inner thoughts), teachers often find the quanity and quality of written output is greater from pupils.

A character-exchange project involves pupils in writing – and the character provides the unifying focus which pupils in different classrooms can use as the springboard to writing about anything.

Character-Exchange Resources

A character-exchange project can take place without the need for anything more than others with whom your class will work. That might be personal contacts with colleagues elsewhere or by using one of a range of sites set up to make finding a collaborative partner class easier. These sites provide the means to connect with with pupils of the same age-group, perhaps working on similar topics, or with similar aims for writing development.

Flat Stanley The Flat Stanley Project provides the vehicle to connect classrooms with other classrooms by sending out “flat” visitors, created by the children, through the mail (or digitally, with The Flat Stanley app). Pupils would then talk about, track, and write about their flat character’s journey and adventures. Although there are similarities to a traditional a pen-pal activity, with the Flat Stanley project pupils don’t have to wonder where to begin or what to write about. The sender and the recipient already have a mutual friend in Flat Stanley and teachers find pupil writing flows more naturally, and tends to be more creative. The Flat Stanley site provides a host of resources to support teachers thinking about using this as the basis for a character-exchange project, including character templates, activity ideas, case studies and examples by others, and the means to connect with others working on a similar project elswehere in the world.

Barnaby Bear ‘Where in the world is Barnaby Bear?’ was devised as a geography-based project for primary schools written to help teachers ‘develop children’s knowledge of places and environments throughout the world’. Barnaby Bear is a soft toy which can be taken by puls and members of their families to wherever they may be vitising and their experiences recorded in photographs or jornals or messages back to the class. The site is maintained by the Geographical Association and includes resources, case studies and links to help teachers put this idea into practice in their classroom. There is an area to share photographs, letters and stories involving Barnaby bear, as well as acttivities for pupils.

Travelling Teddies blog provides the space for classes to communicate with different teddy bears around the world to hear more about their lives and adventures. “This will allow pupils to see each other’s countries, customs and traditions through the eyes of the “teddy bears” and contribute to opening their horizons through a more global perspective. The idea is to have an ongoing exchange (with no deadlines) to contribute stories, photographs, videos or podcasts. These contributions can be from the point of view of the teddy bears or from the point of view of the pupils telling a story about their teddy bear. These could be seasonal posts or story starter ideas. The site provides a place to read the stories by others and share your own.

Mrs Nelson’s Class travel Buddy resources is an example created by a teacher a number of years ago – although now dated, this still provides useful prompts for what teachers may look to accomplish and the steps they may wish to follow or adapt if undertaking a travel buddy project. A description of a more recent classroom toy traveller can be found at Travelling Toy Bloggers – a post by Sue Wyatt.

Teachers Net Travel Buddy Chatboard is one mechanism for finding partner schools with which to start a travel buddy project. Other teacher forums which have been used for this include ePals, eTwinning Portal, and the use of one of the education-specific blogging platforms.

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