Email and English Teaching
Activities for Email in the Classroom
Discussion Lists (Advanced)
A good and useful activity for advanced level students, especially in a writing class, is to have students select an email list that interests them, sign onto it, and then write a report on the experience in general and on three threads in particular. This gives students a lot of practice reading and following instructions, a look at really up-to-date uses of language, and causes them to organize material in a logical way.
I really do recommend this activity for high level students, but there are some BIG PITFALLS.
First, students have to be aware of certain requirements for joining lists:
They have to study and abide by the guidelines in the welcome message. This is a good activity in itself, especially is you have students working in pairs or groups, comparing the welcome messages of various lists. Some welcome messages are great examples of clear and informative writing, others less so.
In my classes now, I won't allow students to post anything at all because I don't want to run the risk of inundating lists with irrelevant or badly- written mail. When I first started this kind of project, I just let the students loose on the lists. But then I found out that the policy was very anti-social! If they decide to stay on the list and participate after the end of the assignment period, I try to make sure that all my students understand the absolute necessity of being a good netizen and of using good netiquette. Discussions on this topic are excellent for conversation classes and often lead to interesting exchanges on consideration for others and the general expectations that people have of each other both on the net and off.
I have one more requirement, also as a result of bad experiences in the past ...I do not let students sign on to lists that focus on conditions in their own home countries. At least, I don't let them use those lists for this assignment. One of the reasons is that they find it impossible to abide by my rule of not posting! Another reason is that much of the mail is not in English. That the list be in English is obviously a requirement.
I find that writing offline ABOUT the threads on the lists that they read is actually a more worthwhile activity from a language-learning standpoint than writing to a list is...and it doesn't overload lists or bother anyone!
Nevertheless, I do find it beneficial to let students choose the list to write about. Quite often, however, they will choose lists that are inactive. I have a general rule that if the list has less than 2 pieces of mail a day, it will not serve the needs of the assignment and that students should choose a different forum. The process of choosing a list is sometimes a lengthy one, and it makes a great subject for a written report!
Students choose a list by going to the Lsoft.com website, where there is a list of all the public lists that are run on LISTSERV software. There are other places and other lists, of course, but in general LISTSERV lists tend to be established lists that have some history and activity, so I send my students there.
Business students and students who are learning English for special purposes (such as medical English, etc) especially benefit from the chance to listen in on how other professionals communicate. Email lists are an excellent source of current vocabulary and phraseology in any given field, not to mention the latest thinking in the field.
I really recommend list monitoring and analysis as a class assignment...just be careful that the students don't abuse the lists in their search for a good grade or language excellence!
Apart from the linguistic advantages of having students monitor the activity on lists, it is helpful to them (and the net!) to learn good list etiquette` and how to abide by the guidelines set up for individual lists.
What lists do my students like? Well, anything about soccer is really popular (but generates lots of mail) Medical lists are popular, even with those who are not in the field. Various professional lists and lists on literature are popular, as are lists for activists (in environmentalism, slavery, racism, etc)
Anthea Tillyer City University of New York (USA) ABTHC@CUNYVM.CUNY.EDU
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Last Updated: August 01, 2014
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