How to use emails in a Primary Literacy Context

Teaching Strategies

By Michael Hilkemeijer

For literacy teaching, the asynchronous nature of emails can be a very useful tool. Real written communication can take place in the classroom and the immediacy of feedback from the email can motivate students to write. Today, email and texting have become a highly significant mode of social communication for young people which is why it is important than in school email texts should always be carefully written – a technique which must be taught in literacy lessons.

As children develop their speaking and listening skills much more rapidly than they learn to write (Rudd & Tyldesley, 2006), email aids in the development of writing skills as they learn to write for a meaningful audience.

What are the concepts involved?

Conceptual understanding underpins the learning of every ICT technique. Concepts can be assessed by determining whether students have made any mistakes or misconceptions. Effective questioning and discussions is a great way to achieve this.

As with other programs, conceptual understanding is essential if they are to develop their ICT capability. The concepts involved in the use of emails include:

  • It is a message comprising of an address and content;
  • Emails are stored on a server until you are ready to read them;
  • There is a sense of audience and etiquette required;
  • Always keep in mind and remember who will be reading the email you send.

The learning of concepts also helps when the technology in the room lets you down and doesn't work! Students don't need to sit at a computer to develop their ICT capability. You can enhance their conceptual understanding and higher order skills by whole-class questioning. Group discussions of the processes can also be carried out along with the teacher modelling planning, hypothesising and evaluating.

ICT Techniques learnt

Along with word processing skills, students will learn the following techniques associated with the use of the email program.

  • New message;
  • Send message;
  • Read message;
  • Copy to;
  • Reply/reply to all/forward;
  • Organisation of messages;
  • Filtering/directing;
  • Distribution list;
  • Discussion list;
  • Conference;
  • Attachments;
  • Address book;
  • Signature;
  • Find by send/topic/content.

Literacy learning with Emails

Classroom Integration

Email safety is very important for students to learn. Here as some guidelines:

  • Don’t give out personal information to strangers in email or chat rooms;
  • People may not be who they claim they are;
  • Bad messages should be reported to a responsible adult straightaway. Don’t respond to them;
  • Remember that what you are doing in writing in an email is public;
  • Open discussion is a great safeguard.

Ground Rules

  • What language is appropriate in emails?
  • Names or pen names must always be used, and email should always be addressed to a specific recipient, either an individual or whole class;
  • When can email be written, sent or received?
  • Should email (and any attachments) be printed out or stored electronically?

Finally, Rudd and Tyldesley (2006) give some tips for starting an email project. They believe that it should be planned very clearly and that you need to focus on the content rather than the medium of communication. Email projects work well when there are groups of students who are working on the same topic. Other reasons may include:

  • The need to communicate without delay;
  • The opportunity to share draft versions of work and;
  • The opportunity to exchange materials in different formats such as pictures, text, sound and multimedia.

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