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Lesson Plan

Write Right Back: Recognizing Readers' Needs and Expectations for E-mail Replies

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Write Right Back: Recognizing Readers' Needs and Expectations for E-mail Replies

Grades K – 2
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Three 40-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Julie Wollman, Ph.D.

Julie Wollman, Ph.D.

Worcester, Massachusetts


National Council of Teachers of English


Student Objectives

Session One

Session Two

Session Three


Student Assessment/Reflections



Students will

  • Learn to use the "reply" and "reply to all"  functions to reply to an e-mail message, and learn when each type of reply might be appropriate.

  • Learn the common format for replying above the original message, and compose and send their own replies in this format.

  • By working together to analyze messages and replies, explore how using the original message as the context for a reply, with the original message embedded below the reply, helps to make a reply more comprehensible and is essential in some cases.

  • By working together to analyze messages and replies, explore how the subject of a reply can help make it more comprehensible, and learn how to give a message a subject and check that their replies have an appropriate subject.

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Session One

  1. At their computers, tell students to check their Inboxes for new mail. Ask them to find and open the message from you with the subject “spring party.” If possible, also project the message and, once they have looked at the messages on their screens, have children look at it with you while you talk about it.

  2. Ask students, “Is this the kind of message you can just read?” Discuss the need for a response to the message, especially if the class wants to have the party. The message asks two questions. How can you answer those questions? Students will likely suggest that they can just tell you. Explain that you can’t let them each tell you what they want right now because it would take too long—and besides, you might forget so you would like to have their answers in writing. Writing an e-mail message back to you would let each of them vote “yes” or “no” for the party and suggest possible activities.

  3. Tell students you will show them a trick that makes replying much easier than starting a brand new message. Demonstrate how to click on reply by doing so with the projected message (you will be replying to yourself in this case).

  4. Have students click on reply at their own computers. Ask them to look at the screen now. What do they notice? Discuss all ideas, pointing out that when the “reply” function is used it automatically inserts:

    • Whom the message is TO (notice this is the person who sent the original message to you)

    • Who the message is FROM (you, the replier)

    • The same SUBJECT (Party?)

    • The original message you are replying to below your reply
  5. Make sure students can find these things on their own screens.

  6. Begin to compose a reply while students look on. Think aloud: “What should I say? Hmmm. I think I want to have a party, so I will write that. And I think I would like to read spring poems at the party so I will write that.”

  7. Compose the brief reply and then send it as students observe.

  8. Invite each student to compose his or her reply, answering the two questions in the original message. Show them how, by scrolling down, they can re-read the original message and make sure they have answered the questions. Then tell students to send the message. Circulate to assist with composing and sending the reply.

  9. Tell students you will read their replies and talk about them next time.

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Session Two

  1. Remind students of what they learned about the reply function last time and ask them to share what they remember about it (e.g., it auto-formats the reply, it makes it easier to respond to a message, it keeps the same subject, it puts the message below so you can make sure you reply to all of it not just what you remember).

  2. Tell students that you read all of their replies and you know what they all think about the party idea but they don’t know each know what others think. The conversation may being in this way: “I wrote a message to everyone so we could make a group decision, but the group, all of you, don’t know what your classmates think, so how can we decide together about whether to have a party? You need more information. How could you know what others had replied to me?”

  3. Encourage sharing of ideas (e.g., we could tell each other or we could read each other’s answers). Once the idea of reading each others’ answers is offered, explain that there’s a way to do this very easily with e-mail. It’s called “reply to all.”

  4. Using the computer with projection screen, and the original message re-sent to yourself, demonstrate how to click on “reply to all.”

  5. Ask students to look at the screen now. What do they notice? Discuss all ideas, pointing out that when the “Reply to all” function is used, the e-mail program automatically inserts:

    • Who the message is TO (notice this includes the person who sent the original message to you and everyone else it was sent to at the same time)

    • Who the message is FROM (you, the replier)

    • The same SUBJECT (Party?)

    • The original message you are replying to below your reply
  6. Have students check their Inboxes and find the re-sent party message from you. This time have them try replying to it using “reply to all.” Can they guess what will happen next (each one will receive multiple new e-mail messages from all classmates)?

  7. Once they have sent their messages have them check their Inboxes again and see that they now have messages from each of their classmates. Allow them some time to read some of these messages.

  8. When students have read the messages, explain: “Now we know everyone’ ideas. It’s like we had a discussion online and got to hear from everyone! Now that we know everyone’s ideas we can make final plans for the party.”

  9. As the session ends, ask children to look again to see that in all of the messages where the “reply to all” function was used the original message is there below it and the subject is the same: “Party?”

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Session Three

  1. Remind students that last time you talked about the original message being there below the reply when you use the “reply” or “reply to all” functions. “Is that important? Let’s find out.”

  2. Project two messages with the subject “A Question” and one response of “No” where the reply function was not used.

  3. Ask students to look at this example and see if they see what might be a problem. Allow discussion until students recognize that the response is confusing without the original message. Ask students, “Which one am I saying “no” to—the early pickup or the field trip help? What will Lia’s dad do? Will he think he can’t pick her up early, which isn’t true, or will he think I don’t need help with the field trip because I already have enough helpers? How could I have been clearer in my response so he understands better?”

  4. Discuss two options for clarifying the response:

    • Use the reply function so that the message being replied to is there below the reply—then we’d know which one I was replying to with the answer of “No.”

    • Change the subject to tell what question I am replying to
  5. Using the projected computer screen, demonstrate how to move the cursor to change the subject from “answer” to “Field Trip” and then how to write another message that has the subject “Early Pick Up” with the reply being “yes.” Explain that now Lia’s dad will know the answer to his questions because you made the replies clearer by using the subject.

  6. Ask students to check their Inboxes at their own computers. Tell them you have sent them each two messages with the subject “Please Reply.” Ask them to read each message, one about extra recess, the other about poor behavior reported in the lunchroom.

  7. Ask them to think about and discuss what would happen if they started a new message that just said “Yes.” Would they being saying yes they had misbehaved or yes they want extra recess? If you misunderstood what they were saying “yes” to there could be some unpleasant consequences.

  8. Ask students to brainstorm ways that they could avoid this misunderstanding when replying. Discuss students’ ideas for solving this problem.

  9. If a student does not suggest the two ideas already demonstrated earlier in the lesson (using the reply function and changing the subject) then contribute them to the discussion yourself. Remind students again of how to use the reply function and how to change the subject line when replying.

  10. Ask each student to reply to both messages about extra recess and lunch behavior using both the “reply” or “reply to all” function and changing the subject to a more descriptive one than “Please Reply.” Allow time for students to reply.

  11. Once students have composed and sent their brief replies discuss whether they used “reply” or “reply to all” for each message and why. Make sure they can articulate (or help them to do so) that if they wanted the whole class to share in the reply they should use “reply to all” (as when asking for extra recess, perhaps) but if it is private then the “reply” function is appropriate (as in admitting the embarrassing fact that you had behaved badly at lunch).

  12. Tell the class that you will read their replies and then decide about whether to have extra recess time in the afternoon.

  13. Follow-up lessons could focus on embedding replies within original messages when answering multiple questions, use of the subject as part of a message, and e-mail chains developed through multiple replies to all.

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  • Use the E-Mail Abbreviation student interactive to discuss some of the more typical e-mail abbreviations that students are likely to use. Take the opportunity to explore the connection between sound and keyboard shortcuts as well as to help students understand the important difference that audience plays in word choice.

  • Complete the What’s the Difference? Beginning Writers Compare E-mail with Letter Writing lesson plan, which explores the differences between e-mail messages and letters that students write.

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If possible, it is great to read the e-mail messages with the student individually and provide direct feedback. When this option is not available, constructive written comments are helpful. As you read students’ messages, keep notes on the aspects to review and share with the class later. To structure your feedback, use the E-mail Replies Rubric.

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