Penpal Pengyou For Teachers

In today’s world, fostering global citizenship in our youth is more important than ever. Penpal Pengyou – “pengyou” is “friend” in Mandarin – encourages American and Chinese students to get to know each other online through projects structured by their teachers, creating personal connections so that students can discover cultural similarities and appreciate differences about each other. Each student communicates with a similarly-aged student in a paired classroom through technology and these American and Chinese youths engage in opportunities to share, learn about, and appreciate each other’s culture, history, and traditions.

Program Overview

  • 1990 Institute will pair similarly aged classes in China and the U.S. in grades 3–12 by identifying teachers who are interested in participating in our program.
  • The teachers work together to design projects and activities, then structure in class assignments which encourage classrooms in the two countries to collaborate with each other.
  • Curriculum connections can be made to language arts, social studies, arts, environment, geography – every subject area!
  • Teachers have the freedom to adapt the collaborative format to meet their curriculum needs. Lessons may include traditional letter writing, short video recordings, art making, exploring local habitats, local foods, traditions, data collection, storytelling, etc. Teachers are encouraged to be creative in designing pen pal activities.
  • It is recommended that students will communicate with each other through their teachers’ supervision at least 4 times per year using technology and online platforms.
  • Samples of activities will be provided to 1990 Institute for posting on1990 Institute’s website These projects will serve as inspiration to other teachers and create an online community for participating teachers, classes, and schools.

Learning Outcomes

A key component of Common Core standards, as well as preparing students for success in college and their careers, is understanding different cultures and perspectives, and communicating effectively with people from diverse backgrounds. Penpal Pengyou plays a key role in widening students’ horizons and introducing them to another culture.

Depending on the projects, students will have the opportunity to . . .

  • Practice critical thinking skills, such as understanding different viewpoints and diverse perspectives, comparing their communities and cultures, collecting and analyzing data, conduct research, etc.
  • Employ creative thinking while participating in activities such as writing biographies, creating artwork, producing videos, problem-solving, performing, etc.
  • Collaborate, sometimes with their own classmates and sometimes with their pen pals.
  • Practice communication skills of listening carefully, writing for diverse audiences, reading for understanding, public speaking, adapting to content and task, etc.
  • Apply knowledge and skills to real-world situations involving another culture.
  • Investigate the world beyond their immediate environment.

About 1990 Institute

Founded in 1990 and based in San Francisco, California, 1990 Institute is a politically neutral nonprofit that addresses the familiarity gap between Americans and Chinese. Our mission focuses on education to reach the next generation of Americans and Chinese in order to increase understanding. Education is the foundation for understanding, and from understanding springs respect and empathy. The vision of 1990 Institute is a world in which the peoples of the U.S. and China understand that each of our cultures is unique and that life in each country is nuanced and multifaceted.

To learn more about how to enroll, email us at

Projects and Activities

Projects will vary from class to class depending on the activities that each pair of teachers designs. Teachers are encouraged to be creative and include student participation in project development. The following are some suggestions:

Storytelling: fairy tales and folktales; parables and fables; original stories; historical fiction; fantasy

Food: agriculture; local cuisines; recipe exchange; family favorites; indigenous ingredients; cooking and baking; dishes for specific holidays; symbolism in food,

Geography: local, regional, and national; weather; famous locations; mapping

Community: local industry; types of shops; names of streets; public and private civic institutions; museums; parks; transportation; local customs; civic issues and concerns

Government: local government structure; everyday safety; laws and legal system

Economics: prices of everyday items; payment systems; business organization; entrepreneurship

Family: members; traditions; background; favorite activities; origins

Science: local geology; local habitats; local flora and fauna; shared data collection; food webs

Math: shared learning activities; distances; patterns; polling and data analysis

Language Arts: proverbs, sayings, adages; colloquialisms and slang; acrostics; poetry; letter format

Foreign language: Chinese calligraphy; simple word exchange (e.g. “family”, “friend”, “hello”, etc.)

Cultural traditions: Holidays and celebrations; symbols and meanings; famous landmarks; dance, folk dance and square dance; instrumental music and instruments; popular songs, folksongs; theater; crafts; visual arts; chopstick and Western cutlery use; manners and etiquette

Leisure activities: sports; hobbies; entertainment; games; vacations

Visual Arts: illustrations/graphic storytelling (to accompany text, or wordless storytelling); craft instruction sharing for the paired class to make; famous American and Chinese artists; Chinese ink brush painting and Western pastel, watercolor, or acrylic painting (especially landscapes); collage; Artist Trading Cards (ATCs); photography; videography.

See also:

Penpal Pengyou Home
Penpal Pengyou for Parents