Video and pen-pal exchanges across continents

Posted: 10 February 2021





Participating Schools:

Renaissance International School Saigon and Chadwick International School in California.


In September 2020 Chadwick International school in California, and Renaissance International School Saigon engaged in a cultural collaboration that saw our students exchanging emails, and creating Flipgrid videos that had them speaking about a wide range of age-appropriate topics in order to learn about students from across the globe. These emails and Flipgrid videos allowed our students to explore the diversity in our student body as well as hone their cross-cultural communication skills.


In preparation subject teachers and Round Square representatives from each school joined a Zoom meeting to discuss the learning outcomes and links to the Round Square Discoveries. The conversation was inspiring and definitely left all involved feeling more connected in such troubled times. After the discussion, a collaborative document was set up where all teachers contributed ideas and developed prompts for the email exchanges. Approximate dates were planned for exchanging first emails and learning aims were discussed. In addition, we set up a BINGO board for students with 16 different Flipgrid speaking topics that we thought students would enjoy speaking about and sharing their voice. The Flipgrid board was set up with each topic having its own link and QR code which made it easier for students to access the topic that they wanted to talk about.


The first step was outlining the project and outcomes to the students. For the students at Renaissance International, this meant looking at informal emails as a genre and considering tone, register and audience. Also, as many of these students were learning English as a Second language, appropriate grammar for the age group was learned or reviewed. Students then looked at a model informal email and analysed its language and features in regard to tone, audience and register. They then started to plan their introduction emails and wrote a first draft which was checked by teachers before being sent off to their counterparts. The students then eagerly awaited the responses and were very excited when they got one! From there the email exchanges happened more organically and students did this as homework, having more freedom in the formatting, but still using the knowledge learned in the unit. Reflection was an important part of the writing process for Renaissance students. Students were encouraged to reflect on their writing and the process of planning before writing the next email. These reflections were mostly in 1:1 discussions with the teacher during lesson time.

Once students had built up some confidence in exchanging a few emails, we were ready to start them in the process of creating flipgrid videos. Speaking is an important part of language development for our English as a Second Language students and Flipgrid was an amazing opportunity for us to build confidence in this. Students were incredibly nervous at first, but the idea of having an audience of other teenagers from a different country provided the right amount of pressure for students to produce some of their best speaking yet. Students first chose a topic they wanted to speak about and then spent 20-30 minutes planning how they would present their key ideas. The teacher was available to help with the planning, provided sentence starters for students who needed it and helped with vocabulary. The students then did a practice round at school, but finished and uploaded a final version at home.
Once the first Flipgrid was uploaded and the students started to get replies from the other school, students felt much more confident about uploading other videos and they started to get quite creative. Watching them evolve throughout the process was wonderful


This was a really fun project to problem solve and having wonderful, cooperative representatives from Chadwick made it easy. Firstly, the time difference between Vietnam and California meant that often it took time to email and solve problems in the initial phases, but this was easily overcome and everyone was patient with each other and understanding of the circumstances. Matching students up also had some logistical issues, Chadwick had a larger student body than Renaissance, so we decided to pair RISS students up with two pen-pals. However, both schools are attending school in different ways. Chadwick has been doing online learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, whereas RISS was already back to in-person teaching. Another complication for Chadwick was that, although the timing worked for the learning unit the students were in, the beginning of the school year and the continuance of distance learning made it hard for Chadwick teachers to connect and have enough time to devote to the project. These factors were not ones Chadwick had thought would be an issue when planning the collaboration but the remote learning situation ended up making things more difficult.


For RISS students the most important outcome was a notable improvement in their performance when speaking. The students were engaged with the project and gained confidence after several videos. The added pressure of having an audience from another school meant that students really put their best foot forward.
The language skills involved in the email and speaking components of the project also meant the RISS students were working towards gaining practice and knowledge in exam-specific skills. However, arguably more impactful was the exposure to other cultures for students. Sharing recipes, learning about traditions and having a peek into life across the ocean really opened their eyes to a new world. Similarly, seeing how different students are currently dealing with the pandemic across the world also helped students connect and empathise but also reflect on current events affecting people across the globe right now.

For Chadwick, the idea of pen-pals worked well with the book students read over the summer and were discussing in their class at the time of the collaboration. It was fun for the students to engage in their own penpal similar to what was happening in their book. In addition, since Chadwick is opening another school in Vietnam in the next two years, it was good for students to start learning about Vietnamese culture and talking to students who currently live there.

Long Term Outcomes

Long-term effects of this include developing protocols and best practices for other teachers in Secondary who would like to embark on a similar exchange. Also, sharing that this is possible with students from across all subject and language ability groups will hopefully encourage other subject teachers to try an exchange relevant to their content area. We also hope that this exchange helps students get more comfortable with connecting with peers across language and cultural differences.


Do it! Don’t worry too much about the logistics in the beginning, things will always find a way of working themselves out. Oftentimes EAL learners or learners with other difficulties are not afforded opportunities to engage in exchanges like this, and teachers and Round Square representatives should be encouraged to look at your school and context and see if these projects allow the school to build on equitable opportunities for students. Also, finding a good partner is key! RISS was amazing and very well-organized and coordinated which made Chadwick’s job so much easier. Chadwick owes a lot to the hard work of the RISS teachers!

Author: Chantal Kruger Renaissance International School Saigon Round Square Representative  and Becca Marcus Chadwick International School Round Square Representative 

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