Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Using Junk Mail in the Classroom

With an open mind and some creativity, we can view junk mail as free material for language instruction. The bonus is that it’s all authentic. My recycling box at home fills up with various forms of advertisements every week, from the cable company’s latest promotion to the services of a neighborhood baby-sitter. If you’re not in the U.S., you might be able to ask an American friend to set aside a few days’ worth of junk mail and send it to you. Another possibility is to use the email in your spam box. (Of course, then you’ll need to print out the mail.)

What can be done with junk mail? There are endless possibilities. Let me offer a few ideas:

  • READING & WRITING CONTACT INFO. For a group of beginners, collect magazine renewal postcards. Give one card to each student. Have them take turns reading the magazine titles and return addresses aloud. Next, have them practice writing their names and addresses on the appropriate lines.
  • SCANNING FOR NUMBERS. For an intermediate group, collect letters offering a service. (Black out any private info of yours that may be listed.) Phone and cable TV companies regularly send such letters. Have students practice their reading skills by scanning for points expressed with numbers. Challenge them to find and circle a cardinal number, an ordinal number, a percentage, and a price. Then test their ability to read for details. Ask them to write a sentence about the significance of each number. Example: A letter from Direct TV lists the service fee at $29.99 for 12 months. The student circles the numbers (as a price and a cardinal) and then in his notebook writes: Direct TV costs $29.99 for 12 months. Students can share their information with their classmates.
  • WRITING CONDITIONALS.  For an intermediate or advanced group, collect coupons or certificates. Have them create one or two conditional statements based on the information printed. Example: (using a coupon from the Jos. A Bank retail store) “Use this Note to Save an Extra $25 OFF any purchase of $100 or more.” = If you use this coupon, you get $25 off your purchase. You have to spend $100 or more if you want to use this coupon.
  • USING PARALLEL STRUCTURE. For an advanced group, find ads with bulleted lists. Ask them to identify parallel structure. Then challenge them to rewrite the information using different grammatical forms as a new illustration of parallel structure. Example: (from a company offering Internet service)

Switch and you can

  • Save an additional $120
  • Get unlimited High-Speed Internet access
  • Do online banking

The student may write:

By switching, you’ll be

  • Saving an additional $120
  • Getting unlimited High Speed Internet access
  • Doing online banking

One Comment Add yours

  1. phyuwah says:

    I am so happy to find yours.

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