Frequently Asked Questions
As a pen pal, you have a simple commitment: writing a letter to your pen pal each month, dropping it off in your classroom's box, and meeting your pen pal throughout the year. However, we know that some situations may arise where you don't know what to do. These "Frequently Asked Questions" will help answer many of the things that you may be wondering about K-grams.
How am I matched up with my pen pal?
Each hall is paired up with a specific elementary school. Within each school, there are 3-5 classes that participate in the pen pal program. We assign college pen pals (that's you!) to a specific class randomly, while trying to keep those who live near each other in the residence halls paired up with the same elementary school class. Next, we send a list of U of M pen pals to your class's teacher. The teacher will then pair you up with an elementary school student based on similar interests that you filled out on your initial application, and he/she will be your pen pal for the year!
How old is my pen pal?
You can estimate your pen pal's age based on what grade he/she is in. If you cannot remember the grade, ask your swing kid or Hall Heads, or simply ask your pen pal.
What if my friends want to be pen pals?
Send them to our website! (Or simply click HERE!) They can apply to be placed on a waitlist. However, there are many other great ways to get involved with K-grams. We are always looking for new and enthusiastic people to join the program. Sign up for a BookMARK session, participate in classroom projects, or volunteer at Kids-Fair (winter term).
The Letter Process
When is my next letter due?
Check out the letter schedule on the webpage, in your pen pal packet, or talk to your Swing Kid. Remember that each month, all letters are due by 8pm Monday night in your residence hall's drop box.
Where do I drop off my letter?
Each residence hall should have a specified place where you can drop off your letters. If you do not know where this location is, email your Swing Kid or Hall Heads. Simply place your letter in the correct classroom's drop box, and let us do the rest!
What if my drop box is not in the library?
Get in touch with your Swing Kid to inform them of the situation. If you notice that the box is missing outside of when your letter is due, make sure your Swing Kid places a new box in the library before the next letter due date.
What if I'm not around for the letter drop-off day?
Contact your Swing Kid ahead of time and let him/her know that you cannot drop the letter off in the box. You must then work out some alternative drop-off in this situation. Unless you have a serious conflict, you should make every effort to turn in your letter on time.
When will my pen pal write me back?
You will receive a letter from your pen pal a couple of weeks after your letter due date, but the exact time is a surprise, so check your mailboxes often!
What is the format for letters?
Please refer to your "A Pen Pal's Guide to Letter Writing" sheet in your packet or on the website.
Do I have to use a certain kind of paper or handwriting for the letters?
Any 8 1/2" x 11" paper will do, however do not use one side of a piece of paper that already has information/writing on its other side. Other guidelines to remember: do not use special-sized stationery and be sure to print your letters (do not use cursive). Also, please consider writing in larger font than you would normally (keep in mind that little pen pals are still learning to read and write).
May I write on both sides of one sheet of paper?
No. Please only write on one side of a blank 8 1/2 x 11 sheet. After you tri-fold your letter, you must place both your address and your pen pal's address on the back of the fold.
Do I need to write my address on my first letter?
Yes! Tri-fold your letter in a business-like manner. On the outside put your name, room number, and residence hall in the upper left hand corner. In the center of the folded part, write your pen pal's name, teacher's name, and the elementary school. Remember, please do not share your home address with your pen pal.
Is it ok if I don't write a whole page to my pen pal?Please write approximately one page. The kids compare letters, and we don't want any of them to feel like they received less. However, if you are writing to a pen pal in the younger age bracket (grades 1 or 2), it may be wise to include some more pictures and not overwhelm them with too many words.
What if I don't know what to write about?
Talk to your friends or Swing Kid to brainstorm ideas. You can tell a story about when you were younger, talk about a class you really like, mention your favorite sports and music, talk about something fun you did, or tell about yourself. Ask your pen pal questions (appropriate of course) about pets, siblings, school, games, etc.
May I include drawings and pictures with my letters?
Sure - be creative! Draw as much as you'd like on the letter. Please DO NOT SEND PHOTOS OF YOURSELF to your pen pal; this is unfair to all the other little kids. You can draw a cool self-portrait, if you'd like. If you really want to send a photo, talk to your Swing Kid about sending pictures from all the college pen pals to your pen pal's class.
May I write about specific holidays?
You may not directly mention holidays because many kids may not observe them. If your pen pal mentions a holiday first, however, you may mention it in your response back to him/her.
Exchanging Gifts/Personal Information
Can I send my pen pal a present?
You cannot send your individual pen pal a present, but you can work out something with your Swing Kid and the college pen pals who are writing to your class. Talk to your Swing Kid or Hall Heads if you have ideas and get the other pen pals in your hall involved.
May I exchange email addresses or phone numbers with my pen pal? May I send my pen pal an email?
No. Many principals, teachers, and parents are not comfortable with that type of interaction. For various safety reasons, you may not communicate with your pen pal through email or phone calls. Also, you may not meet your pen pal in person unless it is through an event or activity hosted by K-grams.
Letters from the Elementary School Pals
What if my letter is not legible?
Please try your best to understand the letter, remembering that your pen pal is only in elementary school. If you cannot figure out what is written, please contact your Swing Kid or Hall Heads.
What if I think my pen pal has a problem or needs help?
Inform your Swing Kid or Hall Heads IMMEDIATELY. Do not keep any such information a secret with your pen pal. Always keep the safety and good health of your pen pal as the most important priority! Your pen pal may "cry out for help" to you and in this situation, do not act on your own.
How do I find out when projects are taking place?
Hall Heads will contact you to let you know when projects are taking place for your class. You can also check the "Calendar of Events" on the website for an up-to-date list of projects taking place in all K-grams schools.
Can I attend projects for classes other than my own?
Yes! We encourage you to attend projects whenever you can, for any class at any school. We understand that you may have classes or other commitments during the time when projects are scheduled for your specific class. Just look on the Calendar of Events or contact your Hall Heads for a list of projects taking place in other classes and schools.
What if I have an idea for a project that I would like to do with my pen pal's class?
Contact your Hall Heads to inform them of the idea. You can work with your Hall Heads to set up an "edu-active" (educational and interactive) project with your class and become as involved in the planning as you would like. Don't be afraid to share your ideas, Hall Heads always like hearing from you!
Do I have to attend projects?
You are not required to attend projects, but we ask that you meet your pen pal at least once during the year. We understand that project times may interfere with your classes, so we try to offer a wide range of times and days. Also, you may go with your Hall Heads to the schools to deliver and/or pick up letters, too. The elementary kids really enjoy interacting with their college buddies during the school year. Remember that you are a special friend to your pen pal, who will learn a lot from your involvement.
Who can attend projects?
Anyone can attend projects! So, ask your buddies in your hall, your classmates, or your friends who live off-campus to come to projects. K-grams has so many unique ways for everyone to get involved.
Visiting Pen Pals
When can I meet my pen pal?
There are various opportunities for you to meet your pen pal. These possibilities include going to the school to deliver/pick-up letters, becoming a BookMARK volunteer, and attending one-day projects in the classroom. Otherwise, you are sure to meet your pen pal at the K-grams Kids-Fair, which takes place during winter term (we'll have more info about that throughout the year-stay tuned!). Remember, please try to meet your pen pal at least once during the year.
May I visit the class?
Of course! You may visit your pen pal's class through any events or activities sponsored by K-grams, including projects, letter deliveries and pick-ups, and BookMARK. Talk with your Swing Kid or Hall Heads, who will inform you of all upcoming events.
What if I don't have a car?
Transportation to and from all K-grams activities will be provided.
Becoming More Involved in K-grams
What if I want to become involved on a more constant basis?
If you really enjoy interacting with the elementary school students, you can contact your Hall Heads, who will give you information about our mentoring and reading program, K-grams BookMARK. This program is an opportunity for you to visit elementary school classrooms each week to work one-on-one with students, helping them with reading, writing, and other special assignments. There are seven sessions that take place Monday through Friday. Check out the website for a schedule and more information about the activities that take place at each BookMARK session.
What if I want to become more involved at a deeper level?We are always looking for enthusiastic and motivated people to help plan and organize K-grams events, such as Kids Fair. If this sounds like something you're interested in, please email us.
Moving From My Present Room
What if I move into a different residence hall or room?
Please email your Hall Head immediately with your new room information. You will still be a pen pal if you change rooms. We just need to make sure that you receive your pen pal's letter!
Who should I contact if I have a concern or problem?
Contact your Hall Heads if you have any problems. Also, you should check out the website to answer any questions. If you are unable to get in touch with your Hall Heads for any reason, contact us.
What if I no longer want to be a pen pal?
By signing the application, you have committed yourself to writing one letter a month, meeting your pen pal at least once, and attending Kids-Fair, if available. This is a simple commitment that means a lot to your pen pal. If, however, a situation prevents you from following through with this commitment, contact your Hall Head or email us as soon as this extraordinary circumstance arises.