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Exercises for Teaching ESL Students How to Write an Email

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Learning to communicate in English involves learning more than just vocabulary; students also need to learn about social norms and practices. This lesson focuses on how to write an email in English.

Why Writing Emails Counts

If your students are learning to communicate in English, then you already know how important it is to help them develop vocabulary and grammar. Part of learning to communicate in English is also learning how to follow social norms and practices related to communication, like writing emails. When students know how to email, they feel confident reaching out to others digitally and maintaining both social and professional relationships online. This lesson offers specific exercises for teaching ESL students to write an email.

Email Writing Exercises

Email Packets & Discussions

Before students are able to write emails, they should be exposed to a wide variety of what emails in English look like. To prepare for this exercise, assemble and print some samples of emails and provide students with photocopied packets to read in advance. Organize your students into small groups, and ask each one to come up with a list of between five and ten characteristics of an email. For instance, students might notice that emails use informal forms of address, short sentences and emojis, or little images that represent emotions or ideas. At the end of the activity, bring students together and discuss their observations.

As an alternative, you can re-design the project as a whole-class activity. Display a few emails on your Smart board or an easel, and talk through students' observations with them.

Email Scenarios

Come up with a set of situations for which your students might want to compose emails. Examples might include:

  • Wishing someone a happy birthday
  • Following up with someone they met casually at an event
  • Inviting a friend for dinner
  • Asking a teacher questions about what happened in a missed class

Make sure the scenarios are realistic and relevant to your students' age and situations. Pair up your students, and provide each partnership with a sample scenario. Have partners work together to compose an email that seems relevant to their scenario. Then, ask them to share their work with the class, and give classmates a chance to critique and comment on each other's work.

In-Class Pen Pals

Students might feel safest if they start their English email relationships with others who are also just getting the hang of it. Assign students partners, and have them exchange email addresses with one another. Explain that their job is to compose one email apiece every day over the course of a week. Make sure to provide the time and technology for this activity, either in class or at the school library, so that all students can participate regardless of their online access at home.

While emails need not get excessively personal, they should be amiable and social in nature. Students should focus on responding to one another and trying out some of the characteristics and components they noticed in their email packets. At the end of the week, have each pair review their correspondence together. For instance, they could discuss any challenges that came up and what they learned or took away from the experience.

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