This blog will focus on techniques that can be used to teach students how to write emails. I will outline why it is important for students to be familiar with composing emails. I will also provide some sample activities that can be used practically in your classes and can be adapted to varying levels within the CEFR. Time after time in the classroom, students request to learn how to write an email as this style provides concise and efficient communication, this is especially useful for anyone whose career might require them to communicate with people abroad.
Emails serve a multitude of purposes and can be a vital point of reference. Not only is it a prompt way to communicate; it is flexible too. Once students have learnt the basics of email writing they can also send notes, dates and files using the same techniques. They are a versatile way to communicate. Practically, emails are used in a variety of situations and locations. From professional to casual correspondence; from office desktop computers to smartphones.
In the rising age of social media, online communication has never been such a hot topic and email writing has been a constant since the early days of the world wide web.
How useful is teaching email writing in a language learning environment? Students can practice and revise target language from their course, practice basic grammar through formatting, learn the language for introductions and conclusions, revise questions forms, simultaneously improve their reading skills, as well as practising some vital writing skills such as paragraphing.
Terminology and Question Forms
The terminology and abbreviations used in emails are different from that of letters or essays and a good way to effectively introduce them is in quiz form which can be adapted to various levels. This can also be a great opportunity to practice question forms too. For example:
- What does CC stand for?
- What does BCC stand for?
- What is the difference between CC and BCC?
- What do you call a file that you are sending together with your email?
- Why should you avoid putting everything in capital letters?
- What word, beginning with ‘n’ means the unwritten ‘rules’ of emailing?
As well as revising simple grammar skills when creating a title for an email in the subject line, layout and punctuation also come into play when writing emails. For example, when starting an email, a comma is used after the opening phrase and a new line starts after the name of the person being addressed. When finishing an email, a comma is used after the closing phrase and a new line starts to write the sender’s name at the end.
Emails are easier to read when the writer uses paragraphs and a paragraph in an email is several sentences long. Each paragraph serves a purpose; introduction, several supporting details (each with their own paragraph) and a conclusive paragraph. Some classroom activity ideas are:
- Cut up an email and have students try to piece it back together, or have your students fill in missing punctuation.
- Have students try to write sentences that bind paragraphs together, guiding the reader through the email.
- Have students rewrite an email. They should look to improve expression, check if the sentences are too long or too short, scrutinise the sentences for more economical expressions, look at the number of paragraphs and reorder them and finally check that the email is specific enough.
Writing as a Response
There are many different skills that are acquired as a by-product of writing. Not only effective paragraphing but learning email etiquette, how to proofread and enquire. One of the key skills that can be learnt is writing as a response.
Explain to students that it is helpful to use the prompts from email: is there information that needs to be passed on such as a specific date. Identify formulaic expressions: this will help you gauge the tone of the email so that you can relay the content correctly, using the most appropriate tone.
In a lesson you could give a basic example of an email and have the students annotate the places where they would need to answer:
Formal and Informal Writing
Emails fall into one of two categories: formal and informal. This can be a good opportunity to focus on the differences between the two. Here are some ideas:
1. Do not use first-person pronouns (“I,” “me,” “my,” “we,” “us,” etc.).
2. Avoid addressing readers as “you.”
3. Avoid the use of contractions.
4. Avoid colloquialism and slang expressions.
5. Avoid abbreviated versions of words.
6. Avoid the overuse of short and simple sentences.
1. Personal, friendly tone.
2. Includes slang, figures of speech, broken syntax etc.
3. Shorter sentences.
Matching Phrases to Functions
Similarly, it’s important to explain and practice the different functions of sending an email. When students become familiar with email functions it could help relay information accurately, even if you may not understand all of the content. Some sample functions and their associated phrases are below:
|Making a Request/Asking for Information:||Giving Information:||Offering Help:|
|· Could you please let me know if…?|
· I would appreciate it if…
· Could you possibly arrange…
· I was wondering if you…
· Would you mind…?
|· We are happy to let you know that…|
· I am glad to inform you that…
· We regret to inform you that…
· I’m happy to tell you that…
|· Please let me know if I can be of further assistance.|
· Should you need any further information/assistance, do not hesitate to contact me.
· Would you like me to…?
· Do you need a hand with…?
| I am writing to express my dissatisfaction with… / to complain about…|
· I regret to say that I was not completely satisfied with…
· I’m sorry to say that…
|· Please accept our apologies for…|
· I am afraid I will not be able to…
· I am sorry for the trouble I caused.
|· Yours sincerely|
· Yours faithfully
· Best wishes
· I look forward to hearing from you/Hope to hear from you soon
· Kind regards
Emails are versatile. They are short pieces of writing that can be useful at any stage in education. Once students are familiar with the skills needed to write an email, they can communicate effectively on a variety of levels and topics as well improving their communication skills across the board.
If you have any thoughts or tips on this topic then please leave us a comment.