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Creative Uses of Email and Chat

Class discussions provide excellent opportunities for people to listen, think and speak. They have a few problems though. First, only one person can speak at once. Second, some people are too shy to speak. However, email and chat can help to solve these problems.

In addition to using email to send or receive assignments, answer post-class questions, and communicate with students and parents about upcoming projects or events, email allows students to contact experts, learn how to communicate through a business medium, or even bring that concept of the traditional pen-pal into the 21st Century. Chatting provides two additional solutions to these problems. Instant Messaging (IM), or chatting, is as natural to our students as picking up the phone is to us. In fact, for many students, chatting is actually more natural. This technology allows students to all talk and listen at once. Many students who are nervous about speaking, have no trouble typing their thoughts.

Creative Uses of Email in the Classroom

Email the experts: Often times journalists, authors, professors, and other experts are willing to spend some time responding to questions from students. Instead of having students write a response to an article or book to you, their teacher, have them write something to the author. Who knows? You just might hear back!

Click here to read the author of The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd, respond to Will Richardson's English students.

Write a letter to the editor: Publishing your opinions in a local newspaper is one of the great means of contributing to a democratic community. With the advent of email, submitting your thoughts is easier than ever. Many Language Arts classes have units devoted to persuasive writing, and it can be incredibly empowering for students to take a shot at using the media to persuade not just their classmates, but also their entire community.

Letters to the editor are typically printed in response to published articles or on issues of regional importance. Papers often accept letters up to 250 words, though they will often edit them down. The best letters to the editor are snappy, concise, and direct. Drafting them so that every word counts is an excellent exercise for budding writers.

Get involved with an international ePals organization: Email also provides an excellent opportunity to communicate with schools around the country and around the world. Some of the best email pen-pal exchanges might come from connections you have with friends who are teaching across the country or overseas. If you need help finding pen pals in other parts of the world, one great resource is On an average day, 25 new schools join the ePals community and you can search pen pals by country. ePals connects schools across the world and can provide language translation services and content-filtering. The connecting service is free, and ePals also offers school-wide blogs and email accounts.

Getting Started with Chat

At this point, most email programs have chat capabilities built into them. On a Mac network, some students can use iChat. External free sources such as Skype and Chatzy also exist. Regardless of the tool that you choose, here are a few basic guidelines for chat groups to help get started.

  1. Have students work in groups of 3-5 so that it is manageable. Including the entire class can get overwhelming at first.
  2. Give students clear expectations in terms of how you plan to assess their contributions. This will help to guide them in terms of the types of interactions that you expect.
  3. Require students to show you their work. At the end of the chat session, have a member of the group get you a transcript of the conversation.
  4. Encourage students to challenge each other and to draw from the sources that you are using in the class.
  5. Provide the students a few guiding questions to get the conversation started, but then encourage them to also come prepared with additional topics to discuss.

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