English for special occasions (ESO): The art of letter writing

Elizabeth J. Lange, Tokai University, Japan


Quick guide

  • Key words: Special occasions, letters
  • Learner English level: False beginner and above
  • Learner maturity level: Adjustable to all ages
  • Preparation time: 10 minutes or more
  • Activity time: Up to one class period
  • Materials: Special occasion phrases, vocabulary and matching pictures, writing paper


There is nothing better than getting a personal hand-written letter from somebody in this modern age of email. The art of letter writing in English can be practiced in class for special occasions, such as Christmas and New Year’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Halloween, birthdays, congratulations, and holidays. A well-written letter has the power to make someone feel special, to solidify a lasting friendship, and to foster overall positive relationships between people. The activity presented here is a highly motivating practical approach to writing and gives students the chance to practice all four skills. 


Step 1: Prepare a list of “special occasion” vocabulary and matching pictures and/or phrases to help students prepare for the writing task. This could also be used to pair up students at random. Put each word, picture or part of a phrase on a different strip of paper so there are enough for each student in the class.

Step 2: Prepare the letter-writing paper which could have special occasion pictures pre-copied on it to stimulate the mood or imaginations of students. 

Step 3: In helping prepare for special occasion letter writing, seek out some letter writing guides such as Webster’s new world letter writing handbook, or 1001 letters for all occasions: The best models for every business and personal need.


Step 1: Tell the class that they are going to write letters for a particular special occasion (for example, Christmas). 

Step 2: Write an example outline of a letter for this special occasion on the board – including full examples of opening and closing parts, which may not be in the students’ knowledge repertoire, and just the beginning of sentences of parts that students can easily complete with their own personal information. (See Appendix A for an example letter template and Appendix B for a model letter.)

Step 3: Distribute one of the prepared special occasion picture, word, or part of phrase strips to each student. 

Step 4: Then, have the students mix around, and find the person with their matching picture or phrase and sit together to write a letter to each other for the special occasion chosen.

Step 5: Distribute the letter-writing paper. 

Step 6: After students have written their letters, especially if they haven’t written enough, encourage them to write more by adding a postscript (P.S.).

Step 7: Have the students fold their letters and pass them to each other.

Step 8: Put them in groups and have them read their letters aloud to each other.

Step 9: Have each group choose the best one in the group to read to the whole class.


Having students practice letters for special occasions like this creates an exciting change of routine/atmosphere in the class and provides an excellent chance for students to practice their special occasion vocabulary and social letter writing skills. Now, with this done, each student has a keepsake of this special occasion – a personal handcrafted letter which expresses warmth, care and respect. 


Bly, R.W. (2003). Webster’s new world letter writing handbook. Your guide to crafting the perfect letter. Indianapolis, IN: Wiley Publishing.

Sandler, C., & Keefe, J. (2004). 1001 letters for all occasions: The best models for every business and personal need. Avon, MA: Adams Media.


The appendices are available below