Learn how to use authentic texts to teach enquiry writing. There is also a sample worksheet and teacher’s notes with tips for you to download.
Writing emails is something most of us do every day. Many of our students nowadays work in large corporations that require them to email in English. However, they often struggle with written correspondence. To teach email writing in an authentic context, an authentic purpose and audience is required. Authentic materials such as an article or an ad can be a great way to introduce these.
How to choose a suitable source
To use an authentic text for enquiry writing, you need to create a plausible and realistic scenario in which the student would have to request information from someone. Consider the following questions:
- Why would someone be interested in this text? (e.g., can be something related to studies, career, work experience, social service, hobbies, political or environmental or activist movement)
- Why would the students need to write an email? (e.g., the text mentions a programme or activity of interest, a product, a role, etc., and the student will want to request information about, voice a complaint, express interest, apply, etc.)
- What information from the text is necessary for the writing task? (e.g., what are the basic points in the text that students need to understand in order to spark their interest or for them to be able to come up with more questions, or make a complaint?)
- What structure and conventional language of emails should students use in their writing? (e.g., a formal or informal greeting, reasons for writing, closing, language for expressing interest, making requests, clarifying, complaining, etc.)
How to structure your lesson
Teaching enquiry writing can be introduced with any teaching approach, such as Task-Based learning, Guided Discovery, or Presentation–Practice–Production. When introducing a text for the purpose of enquiry writing, start with engaging students with both the topic of the text and its character. This will activate students’ schemata.
Follow these steps for using authentic news articles for teaching enquiry writing:
Activate students’ schemata when using authentic materials
When using an authentic text, it is important to keep in mind where students might encounter it. Nowadays students are likely to see news articles on the internet or in their social media feed. Activate their knowledge about the topic of an article by having them read the title and subtitle and eliciting what they may know about it before reading. You can ask students what they think about the topic in general, or create a few quick discussion questions as a lead-in.
Get students engaged with authentic texts
Students read the text carefully. If they need more guidance, ask them to pick and underline a specific number of interesting facts, e.g., three facts that they found interesting. Then, they decide whether this is an article they’d choose to read.
Check students’ understanding of the source before writing
Students check their understanding of the main idea of the article and identify some information they find interesting. For enquiry writing, create a meaningful reading task that provides students with information they will need for writing. For example, they can list information about an organization or an event mentioned in the article to then write and ask for details.
Writing the enquiry
Set up a clear task for writing. If you decide that your students need more scaffolding, list two to five things they should include in their email, for example, ask about the opening hours, availability etc. Remind students that we need to follow the conventions when writing an email. This means we use set phrases and expressions (Dear … I am writing… I look forward to… Best, and so on). Encourage students to add some useful phrases to the list. You can also elicit and draw the structure of a formal email in English on the board.
Students write an email to the organisation of their choice to enquire about a volunteering position or any other issue that is similar to the text they read in the class.
As a follow-up activity, ask students to share their emails with a partner. They could also reply to each other’s emails.
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Teaching with Authentic Materials — Writing Emails of Enquiry