In the second week of this course we focused on writing, more specifically, on the basics of writing emails. My goal was to provide students with a lot of opportunities to write, with clear guidelines for structuring emails, and appropriate greeting, farewell and signalling intentions language.
No. of students: 4 present
Time: 90 mins
We started by discussing some best practices of email writing such as subject lines, dictionaries, editing tools, time needed to respond, etc. I also asked students to evaluate how confident they felt when writing emails in English on a 1-5 scale with 5 being the max. (answers: 1-1-4-4).
Next, I asked the students to think of an email they recently received (no matter what language it was in) and write it in English. This is my favourite email-writing exercise because it is always relevant to what the students’ lives. I also wanted to see how strong the students’ writing was (very strong for two of the students) and generate some language. Then students compared their emails in pairs and explained the situation. If you want to try this exercise, please keep in mind that it can bring along some surprises. Since it is not a controlled task, the teacher cannot predict what they’re going to read and might also be required to supply on the spot any language that the students need.
After that, the students in pairs identified the following features in their emails: subject line, greeting, purpose of writing, closing line, signing off, farewells. If any of these were missing, they were to add them in their emails.
In the next step, I asked the class to generate more language for each of the above functions. I made this diagram to make the worksheet look prettier:
We were now about 45 mins into the lesson and moved on to the Focus on Form.
I asked the students to fill in gaps in this email (very loosely adapted from this book)
Task 4: Complete the email below. More answers are possible.
I’ve just read your announcement on the XXX website for an open seminar on career opportunities in Prague in May. (1)………….me the details. Also, (2) ……………….you send me a list of hotels in Prague? Thank you for your(3)……………….. and I look forward to (4)………………from you soon.
The aim of this, again, was to generate as much language as possible from the students themselves. We also talked a lot about appropriate greetings and farewell phrases and I tried to answer any questions the students had.
I then gave the students some more phrases for each intention (adapted from this book, asked them to match them to the email intentions and also to the gaps in the email:
Match these phrases with their intentions and decide which intention goes into which gap in the email above:
We then repeated the exercise with more phrases and intentions:
Task 5: Match these phrases with their intentions:
I then asked the class to write a reply to the email above from Mr Curieux using phrases from at least four of the phrase boxes. I read the emails they wrote ad could see they were already much better than the very first email in Task 1. Then the students read their emails in open class and we talked about who wrote what and why.
As the last step, I asked the class to go back to the very first email they wrote, analyse it and improve it using the language they learnt. There was some nice noticing work on the part of the students.
Finally, I told them to rate themselves again on a 1-5 scale and was happy to see the rating had gone up (I’m sure they tried to please me) to 2-2-4-4.5
In the oral feedback, I heard comments like “time well-spent”, “I learnt the proper email structure”, “I learnt how to use the verb provide correctly” and “I realised and eliminated one fossilized mistake I’ve been making for years”.
All in all, it was a nice, smooth lesson that had enough energy, considering there was a lot of individual writing. My concern, however, is that it didn’t seem challenging enough for the two more advanced students who use English for writing emails every day. In the next writing class, I’d like to address the topic of tone, formality, simple vs. complex sentences and their effect on the tone of email. Any ideas on how to make email writing lessons more challenging are appreciated.
Read about the first lesson here: Office English 1