Introductions, Activities, Feedback: The Ultimate ESL Email Writing Lesson Plan
Isn’t there something romantic about the past?
I don’t know about you, but growing up, I loved the “Little House on the Prairie” and “Anne of Green Gables” series.
Both paint a picture of the past, including one-room schoolhouses where children of all ages studied and learned side by side.
Education has come a long way since then. Students still come together in classes, but research and technology have made us better teachers and better students.
Laura and Anne could never have dreamed of a world where students used something called the internet to access their homework in class.
And they certainly couldn’t have conceived of email! It plays a role in education, work and our personal lives.
So much of life involves sending and receiving emails, so it’s particularly important to teach your ESL students how to write emails in English.
Why create ESL email writing lesson plans?
I’ve already mentioned one of the most important reasons for teaching email use to your ESL students: It’s everywhere! Anyone who seeks education or employment in English will probably have email play a big role in their futures. But there are other reasons teaching email is good for ESL students.
Email is a great method of communication for non-native speakers because, while often informal like speaking, it’s not immediate. Learners have time to think about and prepare what they want to say as opposed to coming up with everything on the spot.
It’s also less intimidating than longer writing assignments, such as essays and formal letters. Emails are short, sweet and to the point, so they’re easier to write and have fewer pressures associated with them.
Email is also an extremely versatile medium. Some are completely casual while others are more formal. And you can have students write their emails as themselves or have them role play as someone else in their email.
Are you convinced that teaching emails is a worthy pursuit for your next English class? Then it’s time to talk about exactly how to put together an ESL email writing lesson plan.
Bring Your Students into the Digital Age with This ESL Email Writing Lesson Plan
How to introduce emails to your students
Figuring out where to begin can be the hardest part of putting together a lesson. Here are a few ways to get started:
- You may already have an email list in place for communicating with your class. If so, sending out an email to your students is a great way to introduce the topic.
- If you don’t already email your students, that’s okay, too. A class discussion is a great way to start. Together, talk about when your students use email. Brainstorm a list of all the different situations when someone might write an email. Once your list is complete, rank them from the most informal occasion to the most formal occasion.
- Then talk about the different parts of an email. How should the email start? What should you include in each email? How do you close an email? Have small groups of students work together to answer these questions and put together a list of the various sections of an email. Make sure each group includes a subject line, a greeting, an explanation of why you’re writing (the body of the email), what action you want the recipient to take and a closing remark.
- Because people frequently make requests in an email, they often use the conditional form. Explain how to use the conditional in an email. Take some time to review it in class.
- You can put students’ learning in their own hands by challenging them to think of what makes a good or bad email. Put students in pairs and ask them to put together a list of dos and don’ts for writing good emails. You may also want to give your students your own simple list of dos and don’ts for writing emails after they put together their own lists.
- Cover the various tones you might take when writing an email—from the formal to the informal—and what differences you might see between these types of emails.
- You may even want to take a few minutes during class to look at how emails differ from letters. While letter writing in general is a lost art, in business circles, the letter is still alive and circulating. Business English learners would definitely value from this lesson.
- Have the students learn with flashcards. FluentU is a great resource for creating personalized flashcards!
You may know FluentU as a resource for videos.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.
Have your students create interactive FluentU flashcards for email vocabulary. They can cover greetings, closings or verbs in the conditional tense. The options are endless!
Try these email activities
Once your students have a general idea about what their emails should look like, it’s time to actually write some!
Writing emails out on paper first is good because it’s easier to work with them in class, you can provide feedback and you won’t have students exchanging smart phones as they read each other’s work later in the lesson.
Depending on your students’ proficiency in English, you may choose to have them write one of the following types of emails. Choose one (or more) that fits your class best.
Asking for information
Asking for information is a common purpose of emails, and the tourism industry is a great partner in teaching how to write these kinds of messages.
Many cities have a designated person you can email with questions about your destination. This lesson plan from Teaching English walks you through the steps for composing and sending an email asking for tourism information.
As a bonus, students will often get a response to the email they send! This activity is good for intermediate to advanced students.
Asking for and Giving Advice
This email lesson plan from ESL Writing has students ask for and provide a recommendation based on two similar products. Students can compare two cars, two computers, two restaurants… the possibilities are endless!
For the initial email, have students include each of the following elements: an introduction, an explanation of their circumstances/needs, the two products they’re inquiring about and a request for help.
Once students have written their emails, they can exchange with a classmate and then answer each other’s emails by explaining the similarities and differences between the two products. This lesson is good for intermediate to advanced students.
For example, Student A might write an email asking whether an Android or iOS phone is better for their needs. Student B could write an email asking whether Chili’s or Applebee’s has better food. They swap emails and answer each other’s questions.
Write an invitation
While everyone likes to receive a card in the mail, in today’s society, invitations are often sent out digitally.
Beginner students will enjoy writing an evite for friends or family to an imaginary event. (If they have a real event coming up, they can create it for this, too!) Invitations are often brief and very informal, so just about any student can write one. Plus, they can be written in the simple future tense, making the grammar beginner-friendly.
Write a business email
Make writing emails as practical as possible for business English students by having them write a business email. Lesson Plans Digger provides a useful activity for writing business emails. You may ask students to check in with a client, ask for feedback from a coworker or present an idea to a boss.
Whenever possible, tie the purpose of the email to your students’ actual job responsibilities. That way, the exercise has even greater value to them and they see that their English studies can be directly applied to their jobs.
Prepare to write
Once you’ve decided which type of email would be the best fit for your class, it’s time to get them ready to write.
- Have small groups of three to four students work together to decide if this is a formal or informal email and which greetings and closings would be appropriate.
- With the basics in place, it’s time to talk about the goal of the email. Are you asking someone to do something? Are you seeking information? Are you trying to make a personal connection? Students should know what the purpose of the email is so that when they write, they can be clear about what they need.
- Once they’re sure of their purpose, have students think through what action they want their recipient to take. That will also need to be made clear in the email.
Write emails and provide feedback
Finally, your students are ready to write. Have each person write their own email on a piece of paper and remind them of the necessary elements of the email (subject line, greeting, the reason for the email, what action they want the recipient to take and the salutation).
Peer feedback is a great way to finalize students’ emails before they confidently turn them in to you. Here are two methods that work well:
First, a simple exchange of papers is always a good go-to. Every student will have different strengths, so individuals are sure to pick up on something their partner missed when writing. After students have read (and marked) their partner’s paper, have them explain why they marked what they did. Explaining out loud will help them build their speaking skills, which is always a nice bonus!
Option two is to have one person read their email aloud to their partner. The act of simply saying the words out loud will often signal where there’s a problem. Even professional authors do this kind of review of their own work! As the writer speaks, their partner will also be listening for any issues. The two students can work together to fix any trouble spots in the email.
Send the email
After that, the only thing that remains is to send the email. Ideally, students would type out their emails and send them to your account so you can grade from your computer. However, they could also hand in their handwritten drafts so you can grade the old-fashioned way.
Don’t be afraid to spend a little time teaching your students about emails. They’re an important topic, so there’s no need to rush! Spread the lesson out across several class periods if you want to.
With a little time and attention, your ESL students will be writing emails like natives.