Find everything you need to know about using Dialog to Learn in your classroom right here!

Understanding the Program

Everything you need from beginning to end.

Read about the basics.

Get More Involved

Become an ambassador at your school.

Read more about this.


You have questions. We have answers.

Go to FAQ for teachers.


Thank you for joining the Dialog to Learn community! We are excited to be a part of your writing curriculum. Please let us know if you have any questions at team@dialogtolearn.org

Student response minimums
At most of our school sites, volunteers will respond to students within 48 hours of receipt of their emails, during regular business days (excluding Saturdays, Sundays and national holidays). For example, if a student sends an email at 11:00 on Thursday the volunteer will respond by 11:00 on Monday, or 48 hours excluding the weekend. This provides ample time for the volunteers to get back to students in their busy schedules but also allows teachers to schedule ahead. At some school sites, students and volunteers send emails according to a consistent weekly schedule.

We strongly encourage teachers to follow the same rule as best as possible. The Dialog to Learn program requires students respond at least once a week. We understand it can be difficult to make time for extra writing during class; however, students get the most from Dialog to Learn with more regular use.   

Email Review
Emails that contain phone numbers, addresses, last names, and certain words are blocked by our app. Teachers or a designated program monitor receive emails notifying them when our app blocks an email. You then have the opportunity to:

  1. Send the email on - maybe it was blocked in error or perhaps a student just misspelled a word
  2. Take necessary action  - If you feel that something inappropriate has been sent, from a student or a volunteer, it is your responsibility to notify Dialog to Learn immediately. You are legally obligated to follow all requirements of mandated reporting

Please remember, no computer system is perfect. Teachers should regularly review emails to ensure correspondence is in-line with expectations and appropriate.

Curriculum compatible
We have provided you with a list of possible topics and questions to help students lead the conversation. We also encourage teachers to utilize Dialog to Learn writing times to reinforce your writing curriculum. Feel free to assign prompts for the emails, such as "include a 'how-to' description" or "include an introduction, body, and closing in your email."

Other student handouts include how to write an email, student agreements, writing the first email, and more.

Opportunity for feedback
We will send surveys to teachers at the beginning and end of each cycle. Please reach out to us at team@dialogtolearn.org at any time! Share pictures and stories from your classroom with us! We want to hear all about your class’s experience! Please make sure students are unidentifiable or have signed a photo release with the school before sending photos.


Below are some important resources to use in your classroom!

Week 1 - This is the only formal lesson in the Dialog to Learn program. Show videos and handouts in the following order. This introductory lesson will take approximately 30-45 minutes.

Activity 1 - Video 1 - Welcome!

Activity 2 - PDF 1 - Dialog to Learn Student Agreement

Activity 3 - PDF 2 - Dialog to Learn How to write an email

Activity 4 - Video 2 - Writing your first email

Activity 5 - PDF 3 - Dialog to Learn First email v1

Activity 6 - PDF 4 - Dialog to Learn Topics for students


Love Dialog to Learn? Become an ambassador at your school and help get our free program into all 3rd through 5th-grade classrooms! If you are interested in becoming an ambassador or learning more about the role, send us an email at team@dialogtolearn.org

Interested in helping in a different way?
We value teachers. We know how hard you work and we want to take as much of the burden off of your shoulders as possible. Help us help you by giving feedback or joining a feedback session! We really need teacher feedback to make the Dialog to Learn program better! If you have something to say, email us at team@dialogtolearn.org Also, we have regular sessions online and at schools to answer teachers questions and gather feedback to improve our program. If you are interested in attending, send us an email at team@dialogtolearn.org


You have questions. We have answers.

If you have any other questions, please don't hesitate to reach out to us at team@dialogtolearn.org!

Why should I use Dialog to Learn in my classroom?

Dialog to Learn offers teachers a way to tap into dialogue journaling, a tested learner-centered method for improving students’ reading, writing, and comprehension skills while engaging students in a fun, authentic learning experience. The program is designed to be compatible with your existing classroom curriculum, easy to use, and minimal work for teachers. In addition to that, it only takes 20-30 minutes of class time a week!

How does it work?

We connect low-income elementary school students with local professionals to improve students’ communication skills and give professionals an easier and more effective way to participate in a fulfilling volunteer activity within their community space.

To facilitate our mission we host a platform that acts as a controlled environment for these interactions, using individual emails. Students and professionals send emails from their personal accounts on any platform, such as Gmail or Outlook, to a user-specified address on our app. The app scrubs personal information from the emails and blocks inappropriate language, such as profanity before forwarding it to their ‘digital buddy’. This allows the emails to look and feel natural and direct while protecting our students and volunteers. We provide teachers access to all correspondence, to further ensure the safety of the students and volunteers. In addition, teachers receive emails notifying them of any “red flags” detected by the app.

Volunteers are matched to schools based on location; the volunteer is matched with a student in the schools closest to the volunteer’s main place of business. Once assigned to a school, volunteers and students are matched at random.

Throughout the semester to full school-year cycles, students and volunteers send one or two emails per week. Before the initial email, teachers show students a brief video explaining what students should expect from the program, the basics of writing an email and student agreements. Students sign an ‘agreement’ at the start of the program that they agree to 1) follow school rules, 2) not share identifying information (phone number, address, email address, last names, etc.) and 3) be respectful. After this introduction, students write their first email introducing themselves to their digital buddy. We provide students with a structured handout to help write their first email. For subsequent weeks, we provide students with a list of possible topics to write about each week.

At the end of each cycle, classes have the opportunity to host a career day, for which we invite volunteers. This is the only physical meeting in the program. Volunteers must have a background check on file with Dialog to Learn in the last 12 months to participate attend career day, as well as meet the school requirements for participation.

Protecting our students and volunteers is a top priority for Dialog to Learn. In addition to building safety mechanisms into our program design and emailing platform, we have practices in place to ensure students are protected and do not feel abandoned, a concern for the community we serve. Volunteers must notify us if they will be unavailable for a short period of time, in which case we can work with individual volunteers to make sure students know that their volunteer is out of town, in an important meeting, etc. but still thinking of them. If a volunteer must excuse themselves from the program for any reason, we ask that they write an email to their student ‘digital buddy’ explaining that they can no longer participate, they enjoyed getting to know the student and introducing the student to their new ‘digital buddy’(volunteer).

Our program is designed to be compatible with classroom curriculum and take as much work off of our overburdened teachers as possible while utilizing only 15-30 minutes of precious class time each week. In addition, we value our volunteers time as well. As such, teacher and volunteer materials are simple, to-the-point and freely available on our website. We are creating 3-5 minute videos with instructions and explanations for teachers and volunteers to reference when it is convenient for them.

Who are students talking to?

Students email back and forth with local professionals. Professionals include anyone that uses English writing as a regular part of their job. We match students with professionals working, not necessarily living, in and around their neighborhoods. We fully explain the boundaries of privacy and appropriateness to all of our volunteers - these systems are in place to protect students and volunteers. In addition, we run all of our volunteers' names through the National Sex Offender Registry. Any volunteers participating with Career Day on campus are required to meet any additional school requirements.

What are students and volunteers talking about?

We provide students with a structured handout to help write their first email. For subsequent weeks, we provide students with a list of possible topics to write about each week. However, these are optional. Conversations should be natural and student led. Example topics include:

What are your favorite sports? (Don’t forget to tell them what your favorite sport is and why)
Do you play any sports? (You could tell your buddy how you learned to play a particular sport)
Which teams do you support?
Have you ever played or watched ________?

What are your favorite PC/PS/XBOX/Mobile games? (Let your buddy know which games you play)
Do you like board games? (tell your buddy your or your family’s favorite)
Have you ever played _______? (follow with a description of the game)

What was your favorite subject in school?
Tell your buddy about something you are learning in your class this week or a project you are working on. Do you like it? Why?

How is this compatible with my current writing curriculum?

It is important that dialogue journaling remain a free and safe space for students to write anything that interests them. At the same time, we encourage teachers to utilize our program as a platform to incorporate their curriculum into. For example, if students are learning about “how to” writing in your classroom, instruct them to include a “how to” story in their next email. They can tell their digital buddy how to play their favorite sport or video game.  Alternatively, they can tell their digital buddy about the new fact they learned in science or all about their mission project!

How does Dialog to Learn protect students?

We host a platform that acts as a controlled environment for digital buddies interactions, using individual emails. Students and professionals send emails from their personal accounts on any platform, such as Gmail or Outlook, to a user specified address on our app. The app scrubs personal information from the emails and blocks inappropriate language, such as profanity before forwarding it to their ‘digibuddy’. This allows the emails to look and feel natural and direct while protecting our students and volunteers. We conduct random content reviews on all classes and provide teachers access to all correspondence, to further ensure the safety of the students and volunteers. In addition, teachers receive emails notifying them of any “red flags” detected by the app. We search all volunteers’ names in the National Sex Offender Registry and require full background checks for anyone present on school campuses.


What is dialogue journaling?

Dialogue journaling is a regular (e.g. daily, weekly) ongoing written conversation between two people to exchange ideas and experiences. Dialogue journals come in many forms, from a notebook to online platforms. It is commonly used in education to promote second language learning and general learning in all subject areas.

Peyton, J.K. (2000)."Dialogue Journals: Interactive Writing to Develop Language and Literacy". Washington, D.C.: Center for Applied Linguistics. Retrieved 13 January 2016.

Peyton, Joy Kreeft. "Dialogue Journals: Interactive Writing To Develop Language and Literacy. ERIC Digest." (1993).

What is my role in the program as a teacher?
  • Dialog to Learn’s program was developed to minimize teachers’ work as much as possible. Before beginning, teachers will need to send Dialog to Learn an excel compatible class roster with student email addresses.
  • For the first email, teachers should make student copies of the handout and play a short video for students that explains the Dialog to Learn program, how to construct an email, and topics to talk about with their digital buddies.
  • Teachers must schedule at least one email writing time for students each week, keeping in mind volunteers have 48 hours to respond to a received email.
  • You have access to all email conversations and should periodically review content for student growth and appropriateness.
  • Teachers will receive an email alerting them to any possible inappropriate content blocked by the app and are expected to respond to the particular situation with Dialog to Learns help.
  • At the end of the program, teachers have the option to host a career day and invite students’ digital buddies. The last step is to give feedback so we can improve the program for you!
Does it cost money?

Dialog to Learn offers its program and services free to low-income schools.

How much time does it take each week?

Dialog to Learn will utilize  20-30 minutes of class per week.

To get the most out of dialogue journaling it is necessary to maintain regular correspondence. We ask teachers to have students write a minimum of once a week. Each session should not take more than 20-30 minutes. Emails should be between 5-15 sentences based on individual student's level.

How long is the program?

Program cycles are typically a semester to full school year. We do our best to work with the specific scheduling needs of each school. We encourage classes to engage in a full school-year cycle.

Can I change the length of a cycle?

We find that a full semester or more is the ideal length of a cycle for students, teachers, and volunteers. We do our best to work with schools' schedules, taking into account holidays and testing times.

How can I sign-up my class?

Send an email to team@dialogtolearn.org to set up a time to discuss getting Dialog to Learn into your classroom!

Where do I go with problems?

We are always here to support teachers, schools, students, and volunteers with any questions or challenges they have. You can contact us anytime by emailing us at team@dialogtolearn.org.

My students don’t have email accounts, what can I do?

Dialog to Learn requires all students have a school sponsored email address to participate in the program. If your school does not have an email program for students, we can work with you to get you the information you need to set up student email accounts.

Do I need to correct student writing in emails?

Although teachers can certainly give credit for participation, we ask that schools do not ‘grade’ or correct students’ emails. Dialogue journaling requires a safe space where students are free to write as much as they want. Correcting students writing in their dialog journals could discourage some students, especially English Language Learners, from taking chances on using and spelling new words or writing in general.

This doesn’t mean students won’t receive some feedback on their writing. Volunteers will guide students toward correct language usage through modelling. For example, if a student writes, “My family went to vacations this summer.” A volunteer could respond with, “I went on vacation this summer too. My vacation was really fun. I went to Disney World for vacation.”

Modelling is an effective strategy because it helps students focus on the language rules they need to learn.

Bowen, C (2006). Modelling and Recasting. Retrieved 23rd December 2008 from http://www.speech-languagetherapy.com/tx-/mod-rec.ppt

Carozza, C. Language Modelling Tips. Retrieved 14th January 2008 from http://www.speechtherapyct.com/whats_new/Language%20 Modeling%20Tips.pdf

Why use email?

Using email as a medium for dialogue journaling:

- Allows students to engage with email as a platform for communication - a necessary professional skill in most jobs today.

- Allows more volunteers the opportunity to participate. Getting to schools during the work day, or even writing and sending a letter, can be difficult next to a demanding job. Using email allows volunteers to help students improve their literacy skills from anywhere they have access to email. Important meetings and out-of-town business trips don’t get in the way!

- Benefits the structure of students’ writing. Research comparing dialog journaling using notebooks to those using email found that students who used email are more likely to “(1) use formula functions like opening and closing greetings (none of the students in the paper group used any); (2) use more requesting functions (asking questions) than those in the paper group; and (3) produce more language functions per writing session. In addition, e-mail communication was more spontaneous than paper dialogue.(Wang 1996)”

Additional Resources:

Wang, Yu-mei. "E-Mail Dialogue Journaling in an ESL Reading and Writing Classroom." (1996).

How does dialogue journaling benefit English Language Learners?

Dialogue journaling, the basis of DIalog to Learn’s program, is particularly useful for English language learners (ELL).  This back-and-forth provides students the opportunity to engage in English writing in a non-threatening way. Research shows dialogue journaling increases ELLs writing skills, benefits overall language acquisition, extends language learning beyond the classroom, and helps ease students’ transition to life in the US.

Important! ELLs need teacher support. Encourage ELLs to continue writing even when they do not know a specific word. They can try to describe it using words they know or use a word from their native language (as long as it isn’t too often).

Additional resources:

Kim, D. (2011). “A young English learner’s L2 literacy practice through dialogue journals.” Journal of Reading Education, 36(3), 27–34.

Schwartzer, D. (2004). “Student and teacher strategies for communicating through dialogue journals in Hebrew: A teacher resource project.” Foreign Language Annals, 37, 77–84.

Darhower, M. (2004). Dialogue journals as mediators of L2 learning: A sociocultural account. Hispania: A Journal Devoted to the teaching of Spanish and Portuguese, 87, 324-335.

Denne-Bolton, S. (2013). "The dialogue journal: A tool for building better writers"(PDF). English Teaching Forum, 2: 2–11.

Lyon, C. (2013). "That wasn’t homework, was it? Using email journaling to extend ESL students’ learning beyond the four walls of the classroom" (PDF). WAESOL World Quarterly: 5–9.

Talburt, S. (1995). Dialogue journals in adult ESL: Exploring and creating possibilities. College ESL, 5(2), 67-82.