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									Formal Letter Writing
Author: Jill Torrey Emmons

Time:        2 periods
Preparation
            20 minutes
Time:
Materials:   Copies of handout “Tips for Writing a Formal Letter”,
             and article “The Hidden Cost of Fossil Fuels”, overhead
             projector and transparency modeling the correct format
             for a formal letter.




Abstract

This lesson is geared toward helping students become prepared for the real world by arming
them with letter writing strategies that will enable them to communicate with a variety of
audiences. Now that students are aware of the varied language registers, they are beginning to
understand that the language they use must be tailored to fit the audience to which they are
writing. Students should already be familiar with these concepts; however they probably do not
have a clear idea of how this applies to formal letter writing. This is what they will explore in this
lesson. Students will learn the basics of formal letter writing and practice writing letters to their
local congressmen concerning environmental health issues.

Purpose – The purpose of this lesson is to allow students the opportunity to explore the way a
formal letter is traditionally written and the various purposes of this skill.

Objectives
Students will be able to:
    1. Explore the appropriate language and format associated with a formal letter.
    2. Practice writing a formal letter concerning an environmental health issue.
    3. Identify the strengths and weaknesses of a formal letter through peer evaluation.

National English Education Standard:

     Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style,
     vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.

Teacher Background
The teacher should be moderately informed about the various environmental health issues which
are affecting the local and world communities, most specifically the issues of air pollution related
to exhaust emissions and the resulting depletion of the ozone layer. Also, the teacher should be
familiar with the techniques and format associated with formal letter writing. Consult the following
web sites, or a reliable writing resource book.

Related and Resource Websites
http://planet.tvi.cc.nm.us/wrac/handouts/WritingFormalLetters8.pdf

http://www.wisc.edu/writing/Handbook/BusinessLetter.html

Activity
Day One

1. Before the lesson begins, make sure to have prepared an overhead transparency (either
printed or written out by hand) which demonstrates the format (block or indented) you wish
students to use in their formal letter writing. Have this set aside for later in the lesson.

2. Begin class by asking the students if they have ever written a formal letter. If any students
respond affirmatively, ask them to describe who they wrote the letter to and for what purpose.
Ask the class why it might be useful to know how to write a formal or “business” letter. Try and
get the students to name some realistic circumstances in which they may have to write a formal
letter in the future (for example, canceling a bank account or credit card, applying for a job,
requesting information about a special program, complaining about poor service, etc.) Ask the
class to think about what language register should be used in a formal letter (formal register).
What does this mean? Students should be able to explain (among other things) that this means
their vocabulary must be adjusted to suit a formal audience (no slang) and sentences should be
complete.

3. Explain to the class that today they are going to learn the appropriate block format for writing a
formal letter. Switch on the overhead and have students copy down the appropriate letter writing
format (which they will use as a template to write their own letters). Explain each section of the
format as students are copying, and when finished, have them keep this paper in their notes.

4. Hand out the article “The Hidden Cost of Fossil Fuels”. Explain to the class that they will be
writing a letter to their local congressman or woman on the environmental health affects of fossil
fuel emissions. In order to have an informed opinion about the subject, you are providing them
with some background reading. Give the class 5-10 minutes to read the article and encourage
them to write down notes and highlight items which seem important.

5. Distribute the handout “Tips for Writing a Formal Letter”. Read these tips with the class one
by one, discussing the importance of each point. Give students the rest of the period to begin
writing a rough draft of their letter. The purpose of the letter may be persuasive or informational.

Day Two

1. Begin class by asking students to take out the letters which they began rough-drafting the day
before. Review the letter format which students are to follow, and remind the class to check their
letters to see if they have followed the format. Give the class several minutes to make any
needed changes.

2. Review the handout “Tips for Writing a Formal Letter”. Give the class another 5-10 minutes to
make necessary adjustments and to revise their letters. While they are doing so, float around the
room to help any student who may be struggling.

3. Divide the class into pairs so that students may peer edit each others’ letters. Students should
use the “Tips” handout as a guide to critiquing their partner’s letter. Encourage students to offer
two positive comments and two constructive criticisms to their partners. Allow about 10-15
minutes for peer editing.
Closure
Allow students to revise their letters after peer editing and turn them in either at the end of the
hour or the following day.

Embedded Assessment
Assess student letters to see if the class has grasped the basics of formal letter writing, including
the use of the appropriate language register and format.

Homework
Students may finish their letter writing for homework if necessary. Another supplementary
assignment might be writing a letter to a famous musician to invite them to perform at the school.
Students must give reasons why the artist might choose to perform at this school as opposed to
others.

								
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