Email Clarifying Questions

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SWBAT will demonstrate use of commas, clarifying questions, and friendly letter format.

Big Idea

Using email to clarify information is an authentic task.

Lesson Background

I believe strongly in Brian Cambourne’s Conditions of Learning. In my opinion, email is part of my students’ lives, and it is part of the digital landscape they will need to learn to navigate. They see me recieve and send emails; I routinely share with them messages from our principal or specialists. Most of my students' parents have email accounts. It is definately part of their enviornment. While they are not really "immersed" in digital communication, it is absolutely part of their literacy world.

Do I expect eight year olds to routinely send and receive email? No. But it won’t be long, and learning terms like recipient, email address, sender, send, and what the @ means is a specialized set of text features. This is information they need exposure to. Spending fifteen minutes demonstrating for them a glimpse of the utility of digital communication is valuable.  Of course, the primary purpose of this lesson is to generate, record and ask clarifying questions. If using email is cumbersome in an educator’s setting, skip the email activity, and record and deliver the clarifying questions to the subjects personally or by postal mail.


Get Ready, Get Set

10 minutes

Gather to the rug.

Yesterday we read our biography answers. We certainly have learned a lot about the people we interviewed. We are almost ready to write their life story. But, there was some information we needed to clarify.  

·        I review definition of clarify.

·        I review the index card questions, announcing what each team was wondering.

·        I explain that we can’t interrupt the people to ask our questions, so we can send them an email instead.

·        I announce that our task right now is to learn how to do that.  

·        Using my computer connected projector I project my school email account “compose” screen. (I make it full screen, so my inbox is hidden!)

·        Discuss each field; explain specific words, “recipients” “subject”

·        Fill in the body of the email using a friendly letter format. I will create questions about me. Highlight the comma in the greeting and closing.

·        Send the email to me.

·        Close out and reopen mail program, show them my inbox quickly! Open the email to me.

·        Demonstrate using the reply button by writing answers to the questions they asked about me, and sending it.


Go to Work

25 minutes

Now students, it’s your turn. I will give you a pretend email screen. Fill it out just as though you can push send and send it to your person. Do you know who you will send your email to? Do you know what the reason for this email is? Thank you and some questions. Okay, write that in the subject field. Only I would like you to use the term clarifying questions, because you are asking a question to clear up your understanding. I will write Thank you and clarifying questions on the board so you can copy that in the subject field.

Hand back the index cards with the “clarifying questions” they wrote and a blank email page (see resources) to each interview team. I ask the students to work in two sets of partners in their teams to write an email to their interview subject. Each team will produce two emails.  Before I dismiss them to work I write the learning targets on the board.

I can write a thank you note.

I can ask clarifying questions.

I will use commas in greetings and closing of my letter.

If you notice, students, the words you need for your subject field are in the learning targets for this lesson. Aren’t  you going to write a thank you note? I underline thank you.

Aren’t  you going to write clarifying questions? I underline clarifying questions.

So what you are doing IS what the email is about, and that is what you will write in the subject field.

Did you notice that the two paragraphs you need to write are listed as well? The thank you is what you should start your letter off with, and telling your person that you have questions is the next part. Wow! Everything you are supposed to do is right here! Handy!

Before I send them off to work, I review the five parts of a friendly letter - date, greeting, body, closing, and signature. This is a review, as they write a letter to their parents each week.

What other learning target must you meet today? Right! Don’t forget the commas!Go to work.

After the students settle down in pairs, and are getting close to finished, I stop them for a minute and announce:

When you are done, bring me your team emails. Then please collect another blank email and write your family a friendly “pretend email” note.

If I have their parents’ email address, and if there is time today, I may help the child send it “for real.”


While the students are writing to family, I call each of the teams up, have them read their clarifying questions email page, and create and send it to the staff member recipient.  While I am typing, and the children are gathered around me and my computer, I am modeling my thinking about conventions, and grammar of their message. I am also checking to see if they met the learning targets and I write an assessment note on each page. “Met one, two or all targets.”


When all teams have had an opportunity to watch me send their email, I call them back to the rug.




10 minutes

We debrief a bit, wondering how long until we get replies. I tell the students I will check my email once in the late afternoon and once in the morning. One thing about email is that it isn’t instant.

I ask them to turn to a neighbor and answer a few “email protocol” questions, and a few review lesson questions.

What do you write in the recipient field?

What do you write in the subject field?

What is a clarifying question?

Where do you always use commas in a letter?

Who is ready for Lunch? Or recess or whatever the next activity is!