Speech Pen Pals Through swapping letters, these SLPs’ clients made new friends in other states, while targeting functional and pragmatic speech goals. Have You Tried This?
Have You Tried This?  |   October 01, 2015
Speech Pen Pals
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Development / Speech, Voice & Prosodic Disorders / School-Based Settings / Normal Language Processing / Language Disorders / Social Communication & Pragmatics Disorders / Speech, Voice & Prosody / Have You Tried This?
Have You Tried This?   |   October 01, 2015
Speech Pen Pals
The ASHA Leader, October 2015, Vol. 20, 42-43. doi:10.1044/leader.HYTT.20102015.42
The ASHA Leader, October 2015, Vol. 20, 42-43. doi:10.1044/leader.HYTT.20102015.42
Every afternoon I head to the mailbox, grab that ever-present stack and start sorting. Bills (blah), advertisements (toss), the Leader (yea!) are organized. If I come across a handwritten envelope—an actual letter or card—there’s a moment of excitement. I focus my full, undivided attention on that letter or card, and set the other items aside.
For students, experience with mail is much more limited and even sweeter. It’s what inspired me and fellow speech-language pathologist Gabby Schecter of New York City (who blogs at Middle School Speech & Language) to embark on an ambitious project—Speech Pen Pals. We thought it would give students a chance to experience the magic, and patience, of our traditional mail system while making new friends and targeting speech goals.
We had no idea how much fun we would all have watching our students achieve these goals.

We thought pen pals would give students a chance to experience the magic, and patience, of our traditional mail system while making new friends and targeting speech goals.

The process
We sent out solicitations for pen pals via our blogs and speech-language pathology Facebook groups. Through a Google form, interested clinicians provided us with:
  • A request for an individual or small-group match.

  • Age/grade.

  • Primary goals.

  • Address (of school or clinic).

We matched nearly 80 pen pals with one another.
There was a mix of individual and group requests, and we made every attempt to vary geographic regions during matches. We had students from 15 different states, as varied as New York, Arizona, Ohio, California and Alaska. Ages ranged from 6 to 21 years, and the primary goals involved language and pragmatics. Some matches involved students with severe speech-language impairments, but most had mild to moderate impairment.
Most of the participants received five (or more) letters from their pen pal(s) last spring. Many SLPs commented on the value of having a new “friend” for their students. One, Shelley Eversole of Harlan, Kentucky, notes how valuable it was for her client to “realize that other children [his age] experience difficulties similar [to him].” Many mentioned that their students were very enthusiastic: Bridget Donnelly, of St. Louis, says students “wanted to write since it was an authentic task.” Students were interested to find that peers across the country had similar interests and senses of humor.
The lessons learned
Because we had deliberately matched different geographical regions, lots of speech rooms dove into research projects, including reading maps, to determine pen pals’ locations. This prompted feedback such as:
  • “My students were engaged in asking and answering questions about the different areas of the country.” (Joan O’Brien, Shrewsbury, Massachusetts)

  • “The most successful part was helping my student learn about other places.” (Lauren Struebig, Hammon, Indiana)

  • “[Most valuable was] having students ask questions and become interested in finding out about other individuals who live outside of our state.” (Rachel Nemirovsky, New York City)

  • “Therapists loved seeing their groups work together and share thoughts and ideas. It was a great opportunity to work on letter writing, sentence structure and reciprocity. Some therapists even challenged their students to find out how to buy a stamp and how much it costs!” (Joanne Silvertrust, Vernon Hill, Illinois)

It’s not uncommon to work on goals in the treatment room and watch students struggle with carryover skills. With this project, we heard not only that the practical application of skills made them “stickier,” but that working on a “real world” project brought to light deficits that hadn’t previously been identified. One SLP mentioned her surprise at the degree to which one student struggled to reciprocate or ask new questions.
Those who had group matches found that this arrangement enabled them to work on pragmatic skills while addressing specific language targets. Everyone polled agreed that this task made goal-writing easy and that it required very little set-up or pre-planning.
All SLPs received the email addresses of their SLP “matches,” so coordination or questions could be handled quickly if needed. (Personal information of individual students was not shared.)
This project will begin again this fall and we hope to expand it. We’re eager to involve more adults with speech and/or language needs and fluency students. If you would like to participate, please fill out our matching form. We are accepting forms until Oct. 16.
Participants are expected to send a minimum of five letters to their match between Nov. 1, 2015, and May 15, 2016. If you have any questions, please send me an email (address below) with “Speech Pen Pals” in the subject line.
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October 2015
Volume 20, Issue 10