Formal Letter Writing

Author: Jill Torrey Emmons
Editor: Scott R. McDaniel

Time: 2 class periods
20 minutes
Materials: Copies of handout “Tips for Writing a Formal Letter”, and article “The Hidden Cost of Fossil Fuels”, Business Letters: The Block Form, overhead projector and transparency modeling the correct format for a formal letter.


This lesson is geared toward helping students become prepared for the real world by arming them with letter writing strategies. Now that students are aware of the varied language registers, they are beginning to understand that the language they use must be tailored to fit the audience to which they are writing. Students should already be familiar with these concepts; however, they probably do not have a clear idea of how this applies to formal letter writing. In this lesson students will learn the basics of formal letter writing and practice writing letters to their local congressmen concerning environmental health issues.

Purpose – The purpose of this lesson is to allow students the opportunity to explore the way a formal letter is traditionally written and the various purposes of this skill.

Students will be able to:
1. Explore the appropriate language and format associated with a formal letter.
2. Practice writing a formal letter concerning an environmental health issue.
3. Identify the strengths and weaknesses of a formal letter through peer evaluation.

National English Education Standard
Standard 4: Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.

Teacher Background
The teacher should be moderately informed about the various environmental health issues which are affecting the local and world communities, most specifically the issues of air pollution related to exhaust emissions and the resulting depletion of the ozone layer. Also, the teacher should be familiar with the techniques and format associated with formal letter writing. Consult the following web sites, or a reliable writing resource book.

Related and Resource Websites



1. Before the lesson begins, make sure to have prepared an overhead transparency (either printed or written out by hand) which demonstrates the format (block or indented) you wish students to use in their formal letter writing. Have this set aside for later in the lesson.

2. Begin class by asking the students if they have ever written a formal letter. If any students respond affirmatively, ask them to describe who they wrote the letter to and for what purpose.

3. Ask the class why it might be useful to know how to write a formal or “business” letter.

4. Try and get the students to name some realistic circumstances in which they may have to write a formal letter in the future (for example, canceling a bank account or credit card, applying for a job, requesting information about a special program, complaining about poor service, etc.)

5. Ask the class to think about what language register should be used in a formal letter (formal register). What does this mean? Students should be able to explain (among other things) that this means their vocabulary must be adjusted to suit a formal audience (no slang) and sentences should be complete.

6. Explain to the class that today they are going to learn the appropriate block format for writing a formal letter. Switch on the overhead and have students copy down the appropriate letter writing format (which they will use as a template to write their own letters). Explain each section of the format as students are copying, and when finished, have them keep this paper in their notes.

7. Hand out the article “The Hidden Cost of Fossil Fuels”. Explain to the class that they will be writing a letter to their local congressman or woman on the environmental health affects of fossil fuel emissions. In order to have an informed opinion about the subject, students will need some background reading. Give the class 5-10 minutes to read and annotate a relevant article.

8. Distribute the handout “Tips for Writing a Formal Letter.” Read these tips with the class one by one, discussing the importance of each point. Give students the rest of the period to begin writing a rough draft of their letter. The purpose of the letter may be persuasive or informational.

Day 2
1. Begin class by asking students to take out the letters which they began rough-drafting the day before. Review the letter format which students are to follow, and remind the class to check their letters to see if they have followed the format. Give the class several minutes to make any needed changes.

2. Review the handout “Tips for Writing a Formal Letter”. Give the class another 5-10 minutes to make necessary adjustments and to revise their letters. While they are doing so, float around the room to help any student who may be struggling.

3. Divide the class into pairs so that students may peer edit each others’ letters. Students should use the “Tips” handout as a guide to critiquing their partner’s letter. Encourage students to offer two positive comments and two constructive criticisms to their partners. Allow about 10-15 minutes for peer editing.

Allow students to revise their letters after peer editing and turn them in either at the end of the hour or the following day.

Students may finish their letter writing for homework if necessary. Another supplementary assignment might be writing a letter to a famous musician to invite them to perform at the school. Students must give reasons why the artist might choose to perform at this school as opposed to others.

Embedded Assessment
Assess student letters to see if the class has grasped the basics of formal letter writing, including the use of the appropriate language register and format.


PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

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Last update: November 10, 2009
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