Email Me and We'll Talk: Email in the Classroom

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Alexandra Smith, Tokyo Jogakkan Jr. College


  • Key Words: Computer, Email
  • Learner English Level: All
  • Learner Maturity Level: Junior high school to adult
  • Preparation Time:Varies--time needed to select topics
  • Activity Time: Cycle, 1 week; Class computer time, 45 minutes

Using email in the classroom is a fun and interesting way to introduce students to the computer lab and can be used to supplement lessons. I recycle classroom material from the thematic units in my four-skills class to be the subjects for email. The cycle that will be explored in this article begins in the classroom with conversation about thematic material, moves into the computer lab, and reemerges back in the classroom.

A thematic unit is introduced, new vocabulary is generated, and several practice activities are given to support the theme. Once the students have structured practice, they move into the computer lab. They are divided into support groups and the group members serve as email partners. In the lab, students read an email from me which tells them the topic for their email discussion. In class, students write and ask their support group members several "wh" questions relating to the theme. Their homework is to finish their email (if they haven't done so) and then to respond to email from support group members with more follow-up questions. (A variation: they can write the email before class and in class they respond.) Students cc a copy to me.

The emails serve as a dialog between classmates, who write two or three emails per theme. I do not read them completely nor do I correct their errors because time is set aside for students to peer edit their support group members' email. They are asked to check the spelling (computer spell checking hasn't been introduced), word order, and grammar. I have them send back the corrections. Peer editing applies what the students are learning in class but in a different context. Identifying the errors increases their confidence about learning the language.

The email topics can be ongoing, in that they form a dialog between email partners. Students write about the topic, ask follow-up questions, and then respond to the follow-up questions. Here are some ideas you can use:

1. self and interests 7. shopping
2. family and personality 8. sports
3. routines and plans 9. current events
4. jobs 10. favorite anything
5. food 11. homework questions
6. home and neighborhood  

Here are some of my students' examples from the beginning of the semester:

From: asami

Subject: Personal Questions

To: akiko, eri, yuko

CC: alexandra

Good morning, everyone!!

I ask three personal questions to you.

1. When is your birthday?

2. How many brothers or sisters do you have?

3. Who are your favorite famous people?

4. What do you do in the yesterday evening?

5. If you have brothers or sisters, how old are they?

From: akiko

Subject: answer the questions

To: asami

CC: alexandra

Hello. How's it going?

Thank you for your e-mail.

My birthday is May 31. I have 2 sisters. I don't have my favorite famous people. I met my friend and studied homeworks yesterday evening. my sisters are 19 and 17 years old. what do you do this after the school? Have a good time?

See you tomorrow.

From Akiko.

Here is an example of an email I sent to my students about peer editing:

Dear class,

Today you are going to peer edit one of your support group's homework. Edit means to correct, make it better, correct their mistakes.

Here is a list of who you should edit.

Some of the things you will check for:

1. Spelling of words. You can use your dictionary.

2. Sentence order (for example: My bother 20 is years old. To correct, it should be: My brother is 20 years old.

3. Correct grammar.

Please use help language and ask questions.

Have fun!


Finally, material reemerges back in the classroom through student feedback journals and in free conversation. I have students write their reflections about what they are learning and how email is helping them learn more. Here are some quotes from their journals:

"Today we use imac. We studied at computer lab. Chika teach me about what should we do. I introduce me and my family. For example: age, job, personality, hair, etc."

"We used imac. I like computer class, but today's lesson was difficult for me. But my partner Asami helped me when I can't understand how to use the computer."

"I like computer class very much. I had fun. Computers teach me how to write English. Computers teach me how to read English too."

"Today in class, we studied new thing, We corrected another student's email. I looked for spelling and word order. Difficult point -- I don't know how I should progress. So I was saved by Eri. "Please tell me", I said. Eri taught me how to use the computer. Next computer class -- I should listen more."

"Today in class we played Imac. We checked email by each partner. I changed color of character. After that, I put in order of sentences, Finally, I write questions about her, her family, and so on."

In class, students feel comfortable in chatting about the thematic unit and are feeling prepared for their final assessment which is given in the form of a video. Students work in pairs, talk about each topic, and ask each other questions, similar to their emails.

The cycle I have created integrates the four skills in a communicative approach using material that comes from the students. The material is a combination of what has come up in class and the students' own views and feelings regarding it.This student-invested material is more motivating to work with and to respond to than standard worksheets or other generic materials. In addition, processing thematic material using each of the four skills in a cyclical manner such as this helps students retain new material and practice grammar in context.