Many of you will agree that teaching writing is quite often overlooked in the teaching process. The reasons are that students mostly don’t like writing tasks and we as teachers have trouble finding and adapting the material in a way that is engaging and interesting for the students.

However, it is already a well-known fact that employed people need the skill of writing to cope with different situations in their work routine. Hence, emails play a crucial role in modern business life where information is shared in the written form. To help our students to improve their email writing skills, we need to integrate it in the teaching process. Here is one of the ways that it can be done.

Warmer

Picture 1 1 Skyteach

Board “emails” and let students come up with different associations they have with the word. My recent group came up with the ones below.

This type of brainstorming gives you a chance to see what your students think/feel about emailing in general. It can prove to be quite useful when applying an individual approach.

Lead-in

Distribute the following questions to a pair/group of students. Ask them to comment on the questions by giving as many details as possible. Time the students for 4-5 minutes to do so.

You can use/add a different question list depending on your target audience’s background and experience in email writing.

  1. How often do you write emails? What do you usually write about?
  2. What can you say about the role of emailing in modern business life?
  3. What is the most irritating thing about email writing? Why?
  4. What difficulties do you encounter while writing emails in English?
  5. What do you know about the structure of emails?
  6. Do you prefer writing e-mail or real letters with a pen and paper? Why?

When the time is up, choose a couple of questions to ask for open class feedback (OCFB). I chose questions 2, 4 and 5. These are good ones to initiate discussion and see where the students think they have difficulties with.

Language Focus

Board the following categories or distribute them on a poster for the students to brainstorm some language that can be used for each section. Students can do this in pairs/groups of 3.

WritingBusinessEmails Skyteach

When the students are done, ask them to look at the other groups’ phrases and compare with theirs to see how many similar/different phrases they had come up with. This gives the students a chance to practice some functional language through repetition.

Next, cut up the below phrases and distribute them to the pairs/groups of students to match to the above-mentioned categories.

Writing Business Emails 2 scaled Skyteach

When the answers are checked and you have dealt with student questions (as there might be some words they will have difficulty understanding), you will need to pass to some practice.

Controlled practice

To help the students practice these phrases choose an email from your inbox that has most of the language above, take out the target phrases and ask the students to fill in the gaps with an appropriate phrase. Alternatively, you can create an email like this if you don’t have one at hand. Students will need to fill in the gaps with the phrases and then compare them to the original text.

A sample email can be something like this:

Dear Mr Smith,

I am writing in reference to the current situation with the XYZ Project. We have a number of questions which we hope you could answer.

First of all, could you please provide us with an update on where you are on the XYZ Project. We would also appreciate it if you could clarify what the current issues with the delivery system are, and confirm when you expect them to be resolved.

In addition, at the end of our last meeting we requested a copy of the latest project update report. Unfortunately, we have still not received it. We would appreciate it if you could forward this to us.

Could you also please confirm whether the post-installation support covers the equipment 24 hours a day? And what is actually included in the support? In particular, we would like to have confirmation if the cost of parts and labour are included in the package? We require this information as soon as possible.

And lastly, we are considering extending the period of the post-installation support from your company from 6 months to 12 months. We would be very grateful if you could provide us with a quote for this extension.

I would really appreciate it if you could deal with these matters urgently.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,
Jane Jones

Free Practice

To help the students assimilate the phrases better, the best thing to do is to ask them to use the target language in writing. Compared to the previous exercise, here the students will need to come up with their own writing and to use the phrases correctly in the context.

To make the writing stage more fun, write down the names of the students on pieces of paper and ask each student to pull a name. If it’s theirs, they need to put it back and take a different one. The name they pull is the person they will be writing the email to. This makes the task more personalized and motivates the students to be more creative. 

The email task can be anything you like. It fully depends on the occupation of your students. You can ask salespeople to write an email describing a new product/service to a customer, or ask a colleague to clarify some issues the product has, etc. For IT professionals you can ask them to write an email updating their manager on the progress of the project or describe an unfixable bug.

The task can be staged differently. You can either ask the students to handwrite the email or use their laptops to do use. Once the emails are ready, ask the students to give/send it to the person it is intended for (by keeping you in CC if that is an electronic email, as you want to look through and give feedback later on). Next, the students will need to answer the email in writing. This can be done either in class or set as homework. 

When the writing stage is over, prepare an error correction slot to fix the mistakes the students had made. Those should start with structural/target language misuse and proceed to common mistakes. Read more about error correction here.

And one more thing…

To help the students get some insight into the ethics of email correspondence, teach them the following;

  • No all capital letters in emails — this sounds like shouting and you don’t want to be rude. Use bolding instead.
  • No red highlighting — red is considered to be an aggressive colour in most cases. To avoid being aggressive, use different colouring like blue or green.
  • No short forms — in business emails it’s better not to use contractions like I’m, I’ve. Instead, use the long version like I am, I have.
  • Do use paragraphs — using paragraphs make the text visually more friendly and easier for the reader to follow your thoughts.
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