Adult Ed
E-mail-based Lessons


These activities are written for students who have access to the Internet, but little knowledge of it. If your students are more advanced, feel free to skip steps or speed things up.

Activity One: Getting an E-mail Account
Activity Two: E-mailing Each Other
Activity Three: Dialogue Journals via E-mail
Activity Four: Sending Cards
Activity Five: Go Exploring
Activity Six: Writing to the Outside World

Activity One: Getting an E-mail Account
Chances are some of your students already have e-mail accounts. Students with existing accounts may get a new one, just to use in class. Or if they use their old one, they can still participate in many of these activities, and of course, help others.

Students might have lots of questions about the Internet; privacy, directories, screen names, passwords, and a host of other e-mail related topics. So take your time with this activity. Getting an e-mail account could end up taking up several class periods in order to get everything out of this lesson.

Step 1Background Knowledge

Be up-front about your knowledge. You don't have to be a computer whiz to get an e-mail account. Let students know how much you know and how experienced you are. If there are things you don't know, you can try and figure it out together, as you go along.

Ask students what they know about e-mail. Questions to fuel a discussion:
  • Does anyone have an e-mail account?
  • What do people use e-mail for?
  • How is e-mail different from regular mail?
  • How is it better?
  • How is it worse?
Introduce some concepts or vocabulary:
  • Web site
  • Web address
  • Screen name
  • Password
  • Optional
  • Security
Keep it simple. I don't recommend explaining what http, www, URL, and domain mean. It's not necessary for what we are doing here.

You can turn this discussion into a language experience, a group composition, individual compositions, or a list of questions that the group has about e-mail.

Step 2Go to a Web Site that offers free e-mail accounts. These are some of the more popular ones: Preview the process of registering on a few sites before you introduce a site to the class. You might decide that one is easier or better for your students. You can decide which site to go to or let the class explore them and figure out which site to use. For this activity, everybody needs to be using the same one.

Step 3Once you get to the site, you need to find "e-mail," "mail," "sign up," or "new users."

Step 4Once you get there, the site will take you step by step. Each one is a little different, but they are all pretty easy to follow. Here are some points to cover before people start filling in forms.

Once you get to the sign-up screen, you can have a talk about privacy. Look at everything on the page together before anyone fills in anything. There is probably a "privacy policy" somewhere on the screen. You can have the class look at it. Talk about whether or not students want to use their real names for screen names or more playful or secretive names.

Screen names
Let students know that the screen name they want might be taken. Some search engines will give alternatives if that's the case. Have each student come up with several different screen names. There can be:
    a screen name for business
    a screen name for friends
    a screen name for school
    a screen name for family
    a screen name for romance, etc
Students can write about what their screen name means, or discuss it in pairs, small groups or as a whole group.

Talk about passwords.
    How do they work?
    What are they for?
    Why is "12345" a bad password?
    How can you remember your password?
Security Questions
Some sites ask users to write a secret question and answer. These are used if someone forgets his or her password. If the question can be answered, they tell you the password. The site gives advice about writing good secret questions. Talk about security questions.
    What is it for?
    What is a good security question?
    What is a bad security question?
    The class can brainstorm a list of possible questions
Some sites let you give a hint that will be stored to help you remember your password. This can be a good vocabulary/thinking exercise. Give a demonstration of a password and have the class brainstorm lists of hints. This gets a little tricky as everyone comes up with their own hints because the passwords should remain private.

Other boxes to check
Some sites have boxes checked off that will place people on mailing lists or in directories. Make sure everyone knows this. You can discuss the pluses and minuses of leaving a box checked. It's probably a good idea to encourage people to uncheck.

Step 5Filling out the Form

Once you've discussed all of the above, plus any other concerns students may have, you can start filling things in. The screens will tell you what to do. If students are real beginners with the keyboard, you can print out the screen on paper, and have them fill that in.

You might find a student who is really resistant to getting an e-mail account. If that's the case, just let it be. You can create as many "dummy" accounts as needed, and they can use those for later activities.

Activity Two: E-mailing Each Other
Reviewing the steps of how to e-mail is more interesting if you have the students write actual e-mails. Let them practice as you guide them.

Step 1Have each student write down his or her e-mail address on a slip of paper. Put them all in a hat or an envelope.

Step 2Have each student pick a slip of paper. They should keep it to themselves.

Step 3Find out who it is. Have students e-mail each other to find out the real person that goes with the screen name they picked. This can be very direct (What's your name?) or more playful (What color are you wearing? Describe your hairstyle? Where in the room are you sitting?)

Step 4Bring the group back together and talk about what they wrote and how they figured out who was who.

Activity Three: Dialogue Journals
Step 1Have each student send you an e-mail. Go over conventions of e-mailing first. Make sure everyone signs his or her real name. Some screen names won't tell you who it is. A few examples of ideas to get the e-mailing started:
  • Ask the students to write something about themselves that they think you should know in order to help them learn.
  • Ask students what they would like to get out of the class.
  • Ask students to write what they think of the class so far.
  • Ask them to write something about their day.
Step 2You have to write back to every student. Responses can be short. Keep that in mind if you have a big class. If you ask a question or two, it will help the student with the reply.

Step 3You can devote some time every day to these e-mails. Students can read your e-mails at the beginning of class and write back then, or you can have them do it at the end so they can reflect on the day's lesson.

If every day seems like too often, you can be more flexible. Some students will really take to these dialogues, writing a lot to you, and writing often. For others, it will be more minimal.

Activity Four: Sending Cards lets you send cards via e-mail. Visitors to the site can use the cards just as they are, or write in their own text. It's a great activity for beginning writers. They can write just a little bit and have a polished complete finished product. Check it out at

Activity Five: Go Exploring
Search Engine home pages have a lot more on them besides e-mail. The site for example has travel, sports, news, shopping, health, humor, fantasy baseball, astrology, movies, and much, much more on the home page.
  • Have students go to just about any search engine site and start clicking.
  • Bring the group together and have them report on what they found.
  • Write recommendations of good places to click on up on the blackboard.
  • Give students more time to explore those recommendations.
  • Have more reporting to the group or ask students to write about what they looked at and what they learned.

Activity Six: Writing to the Outside World
Most television networks and newspapers have Web sites. Usually you can just put in www, dot, the name of the network/the cable channel/or the newspaper, dot, and com and get to the site.

These sites are full of information and activities. Students can vote in polls, rate movies and TV shows, do crossword puzzles, write letters to the editor, or sign up for the next "Survivor" series.

Step 1Put some web addresses on the blackboard. Like these . . .

Step 2Either pick one site for everyone to visit or let people pick from the list individually.

Step 3Give people time to explore the sites.

Step 4Report back to the group.

Step 5Ask the group to try and find the place in their sites that asks for opinions or letters to the editor. Give the class a few minutes to search. Then report back to the group.

Step 6Have everyone write a letter to a newspaper, network, or channel. Have students print them out so they can hand them in to you.