Many students enter upper elementary or middle school knowing how to text, how to quickly find information on Google, and even how to make their own YouTube videos. But a surprising number of students have never used email. It simply isn’t a preferred method of communication among today’s youth.
Why Teach Email Etiquette?
As a teacher, we have a great opportunity to introduce students to email. We may be their first exposure to this form of communication, so it’s important that we take the time to teach some really big lessons. We want our students to be good communicators, and it’s crucial that they learn the ins and outs of email correspondence. This will be a much needed skill as students will need it in high school (to contact their teachers), as well as in college and the work force.
Introducing Email Etiquette
When I did this lesson with my class, it was really simple. I had a T-chart of the “Dos” and “Don’ts” of email listed on the document camera. You could do this on an anchor chart instead. My students were in 5th and 6th grade at the time, so we went through the lists and students took notes inside their writing notebooks. As we went through each bullet, we discussed the item listed. My kids had a lot to contribute. Often they had heard stories from their parents, especially about SPAM email and not corresponding with people you don’t know. My kids seemed pretty savvy about being skeptical with email (and phone) communication that seemed too good to be true.
A lot of the points that were brought up in the T-chart addressed the differences between texting and emailing. If I had to do this lesson again, I would spend even more time showing examples of emails and texts and how they differ.
We discussed the importance of audience in an email and how you should take special care with spelling, grammar, and punctuation, as with email you are often corresponding with adults such as teachers and employers. If you want to be taken seriously, you need to take the time and care to check your mechanics.
This was also a great time to address bullying and cyberbullying. I wanted to make sure that my students knew that they should not write anything in an email that they wouldn’t say to someone’s face. Also, I did put a little fear factor into my students and let them know that school email is monitored and there is no expectation of privacy. I told them that our technology team is capable of retrieving any and all emails (which is true). You will want to check your school/district policy. The students at my school can only correspond with other members of our school using their school email, so it is not ideal for students who want to send emails to family members or friends outside of our school. You will want to inform your students’ parents in case they would like to create other email options for their students.
The Assignment (Part 1)
After reviewing the Do’s and Don’ts, I taught students how to access their school email. I would highly recommend making student and teacher copies of email logins and password information because it will take some time for students to memorize their information. Be sure that students know to keep their username and password safe, and that it is illegal to pretend to be someone else over email.
After reviewing, students had their first assignment: to send me an email. I gave them some simple instructions for how long it should be and what it should include. In real time, students sent the email and I would either send them back an email if they had completed the task correctly, or I would tell them to try again. The biggest mistakes I saw were students forgetting to include a subject line, not being formal in their language, and grammar/spelling errors.
The Assignment (Part 2)
The second part of the assignment was for students to send an email to their consultant. At your school, choose the teacher or adult with whom the student has regular contact (such as the homeroom teacher, English teach
er, etc.). Be sure to warn this person in advance that they will be receiving emails from students. J
Again, give instructions for what the email should contain. I wanted to make sure that my students know to use email for a purpose, such as giving or receiving information. You may want your students to ask their teacher a question, so that they can share their responses with you.
The Assignment (Part 3)
By now my students were really getting the hang of the whole email thing. Our last test was for students to email our school’s director (principal). Again, please warn your principal and make sure that he/she is okay with this.
I wanted my director to be able to use the emails from students for another purpose (an upcoming report about our school), so I had students email the director their favorite things about our school, and any suggestions they had for its improvement. She LOVED these emails. The kids wrote using formal language (since they were writing to the woman in charge of our whole school) and had great things to say.
Receiving emails back from the director really brought the lesson full circle. Kids LOVED receiving email and feeling heard – what an authentic form of writing.
Your students will enjoy this assignment, but they will still need guidance throughout the year. As you encourage your students (not their parents!) to email you with questions, you will receive emails that are hard to decipher or confusing. I responded to these emails with “I don’t understand your email. Please make sure you are following our email etiquette tips and try again.” Most often the student just needed to check his/her spelling or reread the email for clarity before sending.
If you would like this lesson in printable form, along with student and teacher graphic organizers related to this lesson please click here.
I truly believe that teaching email etiquette is a life-long skill and a great writing lesson. What do you think? I would love to hear more in the comments!
If you enjoyed this lesson, you may also like reading about how to teach formal/business letter writing – another great real-world writing project!