Email Templates: A good or bad tool?

Writing email is a wonderful skill to master in today’s digital world. After I posted my first video tutorial on this topic, a viewer commented that the good old days of business letters are gone. There may be less communication arriving in white paper envelopes, but templates are still in use. In fact, you can find apps now with templates for personal and business email messages.

So email apps provide a shortcut, right? Should we encourage ELLs to download such an app? Some might view that as cheating, not teaching.

As with any app, the benefits depend on usage. What kind of language do the apps give and how could ELLs make use of it? A user can choose a template and learn to edit and customize the content for the occasion. We could view it as a top-down approach. In contrast, my lessons on YT will provide plenty of models and lists of useful phrases for different occasions. The idea is to give learners the building blocks to compose their own messages. It’s more bottom-up.

I downloaded the lite version of Email & SMS Templates by Pocket Minded. The free version comes with seven templates, four for work and three for special occasions. They include a request to cancel and reschedule a meeting and an invitation to a birthday party. The app makes it very convenient to preview, select, and send out a ready-made message. You just have to add the recipient and your signature.

Some benefits:

  • The templates reinforce the basic components: recipient, subject heading, greeting, body, and signature. With a template, you’ll never forget to add a subject heading. The formatting is standard, too, with a single line skipped between sections.
  • The templates model standard punctuation, for instance, a comma after the closing (Kind regards,). Note: I did catch one typo, however, with a contraction.
  • The templates model typical email language, brief yet friendly with a pleasantry or two: “I look forward to seeing you then.”

The dangers:

  • I already found two typos in the templates. One is an error with subject-verb agreement. Any message should be proofread before being sent.
  • The language may not be the best fit for the recipient. I like to emphasize the need for a consistent tone. If you use “Hi” in the greeting, I’d likely go with the request “Could you tell me two days that work for you?” rather than “Could you please confirm 2 days that are suitable for you?” as the app does.

The uses:

  • The shortcomings of the app can actually become the basis for a class activity. Have students look at one of the templates and modify it according to a set of conditions. For example, they can select the template “Meeting request,” and be told the following: You need to contact two classmates, Anna and Josef, and ask them if they could meet one day this week to work on your group project. Modify the message as needed.
  • One great feature of the app is that you can add new templates. If you guide a student to compose an email message, it could be saved in this app and reused in the future. In fact, you could have students share templates. Have them work on messages for different occasions. Final drafts can be mailed to the group. The body of any message can become a new template in the app. The user then saves it with an appropriate title.

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