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Advancing writing skills via pen pals

Collaborative program offers fun, interactive lessons in composition

Samples of
middle-schoolers’ correspondences:

Letter 1

Letter 2

Letter 3

Letter 4

Letter 5

About the program:

The CSULA Community Writing Collaborative (CWC) at Cal State L.A. aims to extend traditional writing instruction and writing practices beyond campus and into the surrounding Los Angeles community. Students refine their writing skills by communicating with students at local middle schools through the CWC. While the CWC is part of the first-year composition program, CSULA students in other courses may also participate. In the future, elementary and middle school pen pals will focus discussions on specific writing tasks and the college experience.

Pictured (l-r): CSULA student Trang Nguyen and Monterey Highlands student Johnny Mojica.
CSULA student Trang Nguyen (l) meets Monterey Highlands student Johnny Mojica (r) at the culmination of this year’s Community Writing Collaborative.

Both to build writing skills and also learn what college is all about, 94 Monterey Highlands 8th graders wrote letters to their Cal State L.A. pen pals as part of their class assignments.

In the letters, the middle-school students introduced themselves to their college pen pals and shared their interests, such as favorite food, places to eat, music, hobbies, and television shows. They also asked questions pertaining to college life and academic goals.

Through Cal State L.A.’s Community Writing Collaborative (CWC), more than 100 CSULA students—enrolled in English 102 and English 301 in the winter and English 101 in the spring—corresponded with these soon-to-be high school students.

According to CWC coordinator Christopher Harris, professor of English at Cal State L.A., “The CSULA Community Writing Collaborative has been a great success with both CSULA and Monterey Highlands students. CSULA students enjoyed sharing their college experiences with 8th graders. Most importantly, they took great value and pride in disseminating advice on how to succeed in college, how to allot study time, and how to focus their time and studies when they progress to high school. Many of the Monterey Highlands students took time to draw and decorate their letters, making it evident that the students were making meaningful connections.”

Marissa Garay, who was enrolled in English 102, said, “Being able to write to the 8th graders was a great idea. Not only were we able to answer questions about college life, but we also got an insight into how things have changed since we were their age. It’s great to be of some help and inspiration to younger students.”

Pictured (l-r): CSULA student Maria Balver and Monterey Highlands student Ariana Marin.
CSULA student Maria Balver (l) shares her Cal State L.A. experience with Monterey Highlands student Ariana Marin (r) at the CWC culminating event.

Said another English 102 student, Alfredo Rojas: “I felt like a kid read about the middle school experiences and problems, which I had long forgotten. I gave my writing partner advice about college, which I wish I had gotten in 8th grade.”

As for the Monterey Highlands teachers, they were pleased with this hands-on opportunity for the 8th graders to develop their composition skills and find out what it’s like to be in college from the perspectives of current CSULA students.

The program culminated with a visit to Cal State L.A., where the pen pals were excited to meet face-to-face. The campus visit also included a presentation on admission requirements for the California State University system.

For Monterey Highlands students’ impressions of the program, see “8th Grade Writing Partners” at

“On an academic level,” said Harris, “the CWC offers writing students the chance to write in a real-world situation with a purpose and a non-grading audience. College students gain confidence in their writing as they show their own expertise while writing to middle-school students. Pragmatically, the schoolchildren who participate in the program learn how to write actual letters on paper. They learn formatting that they can use when writing to apply to college, apply for jobs, apply for scholarships, etc. Many of the young students have never written letters before participating in the program.”

Links to sites for reference:

5151 State University Drive . Los Angeles . CA 90032 . (323) 343-3000
© 2008 Trustees of the California State University

Last Update: 01/12/2016