Special Education Transition Using Pen Pal System

  • Situation

    I’m a special education teacher and a few of my 5th grade students are getting nervous about moving to the Middle School in the fall.  We always visit the new school towards the end of the year, but I don’t think it’s enough to calm their anxiety.  Any ideas to help make the transition smoother?

  • Summary

    Sometimes  “fear of the unknown” can cause high anxiety in transitioning students.  Establishing a Pen Pal system between current 6th grade students and transitioning 5th graders is a fun way for students to get to know each other before the big move.  Sharing information about themselves and their school in several letters back and forth can go a long way towards increasing students’ comfort levels and spring is the perfect time to start!  An added bonus is that the older students may get a self-esteem boost by helping the younger ones learn the ropes.

  • Definition

    School Pen Pals is a fun way for transitioning students to exchange information via a structured question-answer-comment format.

  • Quick Facts

    • Child's Age: 11-13
    • Planning Effort: Moderate
    • Difficulty Level: Easy
  • Pre-requisites

    basic reading skills


    basic writing skills/copying skills/tracing skills


    School Pen Pal form letter (see ‘Documents and Related Resources’ section below)

  • Process

    1. Talk with the receiving 6th grade special education teacher to determine interest in participation.  Explain the process and delineate responsibilities (i.e. who will begin the letter exchange, how often letters are sent, who creates the next letter, etc.).

    2. Create a School Pen Pal form letter (or use the example provided in the ‘Documents and Related Resources’ section below).

    3. Meet with transitioning students,  either individually or in a small group,  to review the form letter and explain the system.

    4. Assist the students, as needed, to fill in the blanks on their letters.

    5. Send the letters via Interschool Mail to the 6th grade special education classroom and wait for their responses.  NOTE:  It’s a good idea to encourage a quick “turnaround” (within a week or two) to maintain high interest and engagement for all students.

    6. When the responses are received, meet wth the students and read them together.  As a group, create the next form letter based on the information received in order to teach the students how to maintain a “conversation” by building on the knowledge they gained from the initial letter.

    7. Repeat this process several times before the 5th graders visit the Middle School.  Continue to build on prior knowledge of their pen pals and exchange new information.  Students may feel they know a good deal about each other before they actually meet!  This is a great way to start new friendships!

    VARIATION:  Conduct Skype or Face Time sessions between the two grades using the same structured question-answer-comment format.

  • Documents and Related Resources

    pen pal form letter (word document)


    pen pal form letter (pdf)


    www.skype.com (to set up a Skype account)


    If you have questions or concerns about the Watson Institute’s use of this information, please contact us.