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Lesson Idea: Teaching Writing With Email Spam

Here's a teaching idea from an English teacher in Scotland that may come as a surprise: using spam emails to teach persuasive writing and other lessons to your students.

In The Guardian's Teacher Network blog, Alan Gillespie writes that he gave his 12-year-old students a selection of financial-scam emails to read and then had them write up responses to the messages they contained. While some students wrote sarcastic responses, others revealed in their writing that they were "genuinely intrigued" by the offers, and a few even tried to negotiate the terms set in the emails to make money.

"It was this naivety and innocence that I wanted to address in students," says Gillespie. "They had to become aware of the dastardly tricks people may try to make them fall for."

Gillespie explains that teaching students about these digital cons not only prepares them for a "serious threat" that intensifies as kids get older, but also gives teachers an opportunity to "zoom in on the persuasive language techniques used in spam emails." By the end of the unit, Gillespie says, his students could identify the terms of endearment used to lure readers.

In addition, Gillespie says spam emails can serve as "massive opportunities for cross-curricular lessons." For example, geography teachers might use the opportunity to teach students why many spam emails originate in poor African countries, while a computer science teacher might cover different forms of hacking.

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