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15 ways to make email practice fun

By Alex Case
Ideas on introducing email practice to your classroom

Although most Business English students generally use email much more often than they have to speak in English, Business English textbooks tend to have much more practice of giving presentations than they do of practising emailing in class. The reasons for this include the fact that writing in class can be dull, slow, silent and something students finish at very different speeds. You can avoid all those problems, though, as the ideas below will prove. Click on any of the titles below to see a full description of the aims and procedure of the activity.

  1. Line by line chain letters
    Get each student to write the first line of an email on a piece of paper (e.g. “Re: My account, Dear Sir or Madam”), fold the paper so that all or part of what they have written is hidden and then pass that piece of paper to the next person going clockwise. They should then write a typical second sentence on the paper they received to continue that email, fold and pass as before etc, until all the emails are finished. The students then pass the emails one more time, completely unfold the one they receive, read it (and probably laugh) and tell the class if it makes sense as an email (probably not) and why. If you want to practice any particular email language, e.g. a reply to a customer complaint, you can tell the students how to start each sentence they write (”I apologize for…” etc.) or create a worksheet with the beginning of each line on it.
  2. Email and response chain letters
    This is a similar game to Line by Line Chain Letters, but students write a complete email at the top of a piece of paper and then pass it to the next person to read. That person writes a response to the email (e.g. a response to a letter of complaint) and folds the paper so the response they wrote is visible but the original email they read is hidden. They then pass this onto a third person, who reads the response, tries to guess what the first email said (e.g. what the complaint was) and writes an email that could go before the response they have just read. They then fold the paper so that only the last email (the one they have just written) is visible and pass again. The next person reads the attempt at guessing the first email that the person sitting next to them just wrote and writes a suitable response for it. Students pass one more time, unfold the whole paper, read it, and tell the class if the original first email and the last response fit or not and why.
  3. Rearrange the text
    To make reading emails more of a physical, interactive activity, cut up some emails between lines or paragraphs and get the students to try to put them back into order. If you have several emails written for different reasons or with different levels of formality mixed up together, students can get an idea of how they differ as they separate the texts and put them into order. You can then use that as the start of the presentation stage.
  4. Rearrange the texts
    This is similar to Rearrange the Text, but rather than putting the lines of one or more emails into order the students have to put a sequence of emails into the order they were written, by looking at how the formality decreases, working out which ones are replies to which etc.
  5. Reading race
    To make a reading activity fun, simply give them just one question and get them to find the correct answer as quickly as possible. Whenever one student or team thinks they have finished and put up their hand, ask all the teams to turn the email over and check if their answer is correct. If so, they get one point and they can explain where the answer was in the email to the other students. If their answer was wrong, they lose one point and all the other students can turn their texts back over and continue searching for the correct answer.
  6. Use emails as roleplay cards
    One good way of introducing emailing to a group of students that is more used to speaking in class is to give the roleplay cards for a speaking activity to them as emails, e.g. an email asking them to interview their partner to find out what the personal problem that is interfering with their work but they won’t tell anyone is. After finishing the speaking activity, you can look at the language in the email that was on the roleplay card, and then ask them to write a reply, progress report email or similar email for homework.
  7. Emailing race
    Students have to write emails to get as many positive responses from their classmates as they can before the end of the game. The easiest way of organising this is to get students to email each other to arrange to meet. The person who has made the most new arrangements and written them in their diary when the game stops is the winner. You can play similar games with complaining and demanding compensation, or with making orders.
  8. Emails pairwork spot the differences
    Take an email and rewrite a few sentences in it, e.g. replacing “Dear Sirs” with “Dear Sir or Madam”. Give the changed email to one student in each pair and the original email to the other student. They should read out their emails to each other line by line and underline the differences. As a class, go through the answers and discuss if there are any differences in meaning or if either version is better in some circumstances.
  9. Emails pairwork spot the errors
    This is similar to Emails Pairwork Spot the Differences, but this time the teacher should take a single email and add different errors to the Student A and Student B versions of it. Students read their emails to each other, listen for the parts that are different and decide together which of the two versions is correct at each point. Go through the answers as a class and discuss why each part is wrong (spelling, grammar, formality etc).
  10. Emails with clues to solve a mystery or logic puzzle
    Two of the most fun reading activities are reading clues to solve a murder mystery (e.g. Elementary My Dear Watson from Intermediate Communication Games, or something similar from Reading Games) and reading to work out the solutions to logic puzzles (available in the Reward Resource Packs and many other places, including on the internet). By rewriting one of these so that all the clues come as emails (e.g. “Dear Inspector Maigret. Sorry for writing to you out of the blue like this, but I wish to inform you that I heard footsteps going towards the study at 7 o’clock on the night of the murder…”), you can add a serious reading and writing topic to the games.
  11. Emails decisions decisions game
    Another way of making reading (and later writing) fun is to play a game where students read short descriptions of their situation and decide which of 2 or more options they will take. They then read their new situation and do the same, continuing until they reach the end of the game by becoming rich or bankrupt etc. Games like this are available at the back of the teachers’ books of the higher levels of the Headway course. This kind of game can also be played with emails- students read an email asking them to make a decision, decide together how they will reply, read the answer to that reply etc.
  12. Spot the errors race
    This is similar to a Reading Race, but this time students race to find errors that you have added to the emails, either racing to one mistake you mention or trying to be first to find a set number of mistakes.
  13. Add errors
    This is another activity where students try to find mistakes in the emails, but this time the mistakes are added by the other teams. Give each team a different email and get them to rewrite the text with errors added to it, e.g. language that is too informal or spelling mistakes. The rewriting is best done on computers and then printed out, but can be done by hand if you have enough time. If you don’t have a printer, they can correct the text the other team has added errors to directly on the computer, but make sure spellcheck is turned off.
  14. Emails pellmanism
    In this memory game, students have to match up pairs of emails, pairs of lines from emails, or sentence halves that are placed face down on the table. If they are matching whole emails, they can be enquiry and response, or two emails with the same purpose (e.g. two emails changing appointments). If they are pairs of sentences, they can be formal and informal versions of the same thing.
  15. Email dominoes
    This is similar to Emails Pellmanism, but this time students match up sentence halves or sentences that follow each other that are given as domino playing cards. You can set this up so that the two halves of the domino are completely unrelated to each other (easier to design) or so that when all the dominoes are put together they make a complete email (better practice, but more difficult to design).
Written by Alex Case for Tefl.NET February 2008
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic and the Teaching...: Interactive Classroom Activities series of business and exam skills e-books for teachers
© Tefl.NET


  • Kat says:

    Many people may find this useless but as a TEFL Trainer this is very helpful and useful! So thanks for the help.

  • Aleeza Peer says:

    I find this to be very helpful as a TEFL Trainer and after reading this it has definitely improved my work in my ways, thank you for this publish!:)

  • Sushant Katti says:

    Super activities.
    I’m a TEFL trainer and found this very helpful. Thanks for this!

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