Writing Informal Emails and Letters

Lesson and exercise

Teaching ESL
ESL Class. Hero Images / Getty Images

Helping students understand the differences between formal and informal correspondence via email or letter is an important step toward helping them master differences in register required for writing in English. These exercises focus on understanding the type of language that is used in an informal letter by contrasting it with formal communications.

Generally speaking, the main difference between informal and formal letters is that informal letters are written as people speak.

There is currently a tendency in business communications to move away from formal writing style to a more, personal informal style. Students should be able to understand the differences between the two styles. Help them learn when to use formal and informal writing style with these exercises.

Lesson Plan

Aim: Understanding proper style for and writing of informal letters

Activity: Understanding the difference between formal and informal letters, vocabulary practice, writing practice

Level: Upper intermediate

Outline:

  • Ask students which situations call for a formal email or letter and which situations call for an informal approach.
  • Have students brainstorm on the differences between formal and informal letters written in their native language.
  • Once students have discussed differences between the two styles, introduce the topic of differences in email and letter writing in English by giving them the first worksheet asking students to discuss differences between formal and informal phrases used in correspondence.
  • Discuss worksheet as a class to complete your review discussing any questions that may occur.
  • Ask the students to do the second exercise which focuses on appropriate formulas for writing informal letters or emails. 
  • As a class, discuss other informal language that could be used to accomplish the purpose.
  • Ask students to try their hand and changing formal phrases to more informal language in a practice email. 
  • Have students write an informal email choosing one of the suggested topics.
  • Ask students to peer review their emails focusing on identifying language that might be too formal (or informal). 

Class Handouts and Exercises

Discuss the questions below to help you focus on differences between formal and informal written communication used in emails and letters. 

  • Why is the phrase 'I am sorry to inform you' used in an email? Is it formal or informal?
  • Are phrasal verbs more or less formal? Can you think of synonyms for your favorite phrasal verbs?
  • What's a more informal way of saying "I am very grateful for..."
  • How might the phrase 'Why don't we...' be used in an informal email?
  • Are idioms and slang okay in informal emails? What type of emails might contain more slang?
  • What's more common in informal correspondence: short sentences or long sentences? Why?
  • We use phrases like 'Best wishes', and 'Yours faithfully to end a formal letter. Which informal phrases might you use to finish an email to a friend? A colleague? A boy/girlfriend? 
 

Look at the phrases 1-11 and match them with a purpose A-K

  1. That reminds me,...
  2. Why don't we...
  3. I'd better get going...
  4. Thanks for your letter...
  5. Please let me know...
  6. I'm really sorry...
  7. Love,
  8. Could you do something for me?
  9. Write soon...
  10. Did you know that...
  11. I'm happy to hear that...
  • to finish the letter
  • to apologize
  • to thank the person for writing
  • to begin the letter
  • to change the subject
  • to ask a favor
  • before signing the letter
  • to suggest or invite
  • to ask for a reply
  • to ask for a response
  • to share some information

Find informal synonyms to replace the more formal language in italics in this short, informal email. 

Dear Angie,

I hope this email finds you well and in good spirits. I was spending time with some acquaintances the other day. We were having a fine time indeed, so we decided take a short journey together next week. I would like to invite you to come with us. Please inform me if you can come or not. 

Best wishes,

Jack

Choose one of the three subjects and write an informal email to a friend or family member.

  1. Write an email to a friend you haven't seen or spoken to in a long time. Tell him/her about what you have been doing and ask them how they are and what they have been up to recently.
  2. Write to a cousin and invite them to your wedding. Shortly tell them about your future husband/wife, as well as specific details about the wedding. 
  1. Write an email to a friend you know has been having some problems. Ask him/her how she/he is doing and if you can help.