Office English Lesson 2

Acknowledgements: I’d like to thank Vedrana, Marc and Jonathan for their help with this lesson and for being friends.

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.

Level: High-Intermediate

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.

(5)……………………………

Didier Curieux

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:

Office EN2

We then repeated the exercise with more phrases and intentions:

Task 5: Match these phrases with their intentions:

Office EN1

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.

Task repetition:

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

7 thoughts on “Office English Lesson 2

  1. Hi Kamila,
    Looks like this is going to be another great series of posts walking us through your process 🙂 love it!

    For emails, I sometimes do a ping-pong activity in the second class. I usually go old school with this, paper and lots of scribbles and crossing out are a good thing in this case.
    Students have agreed on a list of expressions or chunks they want to use (teacher gets to add a few too if needed), they have to write a “real” email to another student in the class but they must include (6) of the expressions. Teacher circulates to help out. Then they send/throw paper plane version. The receiving student has to reply using (3) of the expressions. Great if they can keep email chain going, perhaps by adding a 3rd person to the conversation, but it often tapers out. It shows how emails get shorter as chain goes on and from what I’ve seen, a lot of real life emails are on fact one-liners so ping-pong should speed up as it goes on.
    (Break for feedback at this point, email pages taped to board, students with highlighter pens for expressions used successfully, give them time to read the emails they weren’t involved in)
    This often naturally leads into register: email chain starts out formal and ends up more relaxed. If you can get them to notice this from their own chain, so much the better. But you might like to prep your own just in case. They can rewrite a couple of the emails exaggerating formality/informality levels.
    For “homework” or later in the course, email each other asking for info about something that happened in class or a tip on how to learn English. They each have to reply to 1 other student. This, in turn, leads nicely into report writing when they get to compile their tips.

    I like to do emails early on with groups as it’s quite easy to build them into course as homework routine. But I admit I still prefer working on emails in 1:1 as you can really zoom in on the style and language that is expected in their job. Accountants’ emails are so different from engineers’ …

    Looking forward to the next episode and I’m sure your students are too ☺

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hi Eily,

      Thank you so much for all these tips! I especially like the way one thing leads to another as in the email writing to the reports. I have done email chains before on paper and agree that paper is perfectly suitable for email writing in class 🙂 As for the mix of students, indeed – I have a PhD student, an assistant, some professors, some administrators and all this nicely showed when they wrote their emails, which were all very different.
      Once again, many thanks!
      K.

      Like

  2. Hi Kamila,

    Thanks but I really didn’t do much at all.

    The differentiation thing is such a difficult thing because you don’t want to point the finger and make people feel different but they are adults and know their limits. It might have been a nice idea to have the less proficient students planning an email together and then write separately before comparing. Easy to say when it’s not your own lesson though.

    I’m looking forward to the next instalment of this series!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Marc,

      Thanks for the tip. I will consider that next time. I seem to get different students each time which makes it harder to plan. I hope it settles down to a more stable group. Also higher proficiency doesn’t always mean the need to write more complex emails. And yes, you have helped lots. That email book is very good. Time to go back to it as a project?
      Cheers
      K.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Office English 4 – Tone in Writing – Kamila of Prague

  4. Pingback: Office English 6 – Business Reports – Kamila of Prague

  5. Pingback: Office English 9 and 10 – Finito! – Kamila of Prague

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