In my current position I spend a large portion of my time speaking to students by email…which is great.
What I’ve noticed is that in general, my students tend to be either overly formal or overly informal or an odd combination of both. I also find ridiculously inappropriate sentences nestled in amongst otherwise normal emails.
In an effort to get them thinking about this issue, I came up with a quick and easy lesson for any level from pre-intermediate upwards. It’s can be used as an introduction to a larger lesson on formality in writing or it can be expanded and be a lesson in itself.
This lesson works particularly well with older students who are already using English at work but doesn’t need to be.
Time: 30minutes – 90 minutes
Materials: informal semi-formal formal emails
As an intro, I like to ask sts to discuss some the questions on the top of the page. It gets them thinking about how they use English in their countries and what they find difficult.
I always introduce this honestly, telling them that I find students often miss the level of formality. I tell them we will analyse two emails and decide on the formality.
I display the first one on the board, explain that both emails are between 2 colleagues (but they aren’t very close) and ask students to answer the following 2 questions:
- what is the objective of this email?
- is it formal, semi-formal or informal?
Without checking, I move on to the second one and repeat the questions.
We then discuss both of them and come to the conclusion that they are both looking for details of Friday’s meeting but the first is overly informal and the second overly formal.
Focus on language chunks:
Next, I hand out both emails and let students discuss in small groups which words/phrases are too informal / too formal or just downright inappropriate (I’m thinking of “I fell asleep” and “Proudly attended”).
After a few minutes we check this as a class.
I then get the students back into their groups and have them write their own version of the email in an appropriate, semi-formal register.
We then combine the answers and write one definitive answer which sts can take a photo of on their phones and take away with them.
The homework is the reply to the email in an appropriate register.