700 messages! My blood pressure shot up, and all I did was look at that image on the right. Usually, I can keep my Inbox well below that threshold, but during the semester when students are emailing me, it can certainly feel like I’m trapped in the world’s fullest Inbox.
The size of my Inbox can be even more daunting when the students writing me aren’t using the best strategies when they write their messages. Nod if any of the following sounds familiar:
- Your Inbox is full of messages with vague subject lines like “Writing Assignment” or “My Paper.”
- You have no idea who LEGOnerd@gmail.com is, so it’s impossible to reply with the homework for the next session.
- You have messages that send you to Urban Dictionary just to figure out what the writer is talking about.
You probably encounter those scenarios every semester. The problem is how to deal with them. I’ve never had the luxury of teaching a class that was actually focused on e-mail. The goal of the course is always something else, from first-year comp to visual rhetoric or from professional communication to American literature. There’s little time to spare for long discussions of effective e-mail practices. Still, to survive the influx of messages, you have to spend some time talking how to write about effective email messages.My solution is to keep a collection of resources handy, my own English Teacher’s E-mail Survival Kit. Below are links to resources and news articles that address the challenges of e-mail in the classroom. Just send the relevant link to a student when an issue arises. Ask them to read the piece and apply it to their work, just as you would point them to a grammar rule. Discuss the issues at more length if the situation requires.
- You want to establish basic guidelines for e-mail.
Include the link to Dennis Jerz’s Writing Effective E-Mail: Top 10 Tipson your course Web site or syllabus. Point to it when you need to reinforce a tip. Use the shortcuts at the top of his list to send a specific tip (such as Identify yourself clearly) to students. Email etiquette from the Purdue OWL and Guy Kawasaki’s The Effective Emailer also have clear tips you can use.
- E-mail messages are full of cryptic abbreviations.
Use Texting, blogging, and how they may make English spelling even more annoying to open up a discussion of when abbreviations are acceptable. As a group, agree on any abbreviations the whole class will use. For instance, instead of the full book title How to Write Anything: A Guide and Reference with Readings, agree on “HTWA” as the class shortcut. Make a class cheat sheet.
- Punctuation pile-up is showing up all too often!!!!!!!!!
If an epidemic of over-punctuation breaks out, have students read and discuss Talking (Exclamation) Points: On Exclamation Points and E-Mails.
- Subject lines are unclear or missing.
Try Teach Students About Headlines, Titles, and Subject Lines that asks students to scan a page of links on the Alltop index, and note those that stand out and those they’d ignore. This activity also works for a discussion of effective blog titles or headlines.
- You send out messages, but students don’t reply.
Remind students of the importance of timely response with Is Anyone There? When Your E-Mail Goes Unanswered.
- Students are complaining about inbox overload.
Share We Have to Fix E-Mail, and be sure to look at the relatedEmail Charter site as well.
- The class is overwhelmed with Reply All messages.
Often those Reply All messages should only have been sent to a specific person or two. Talk about the strategy in Use Email to Teach Others How to Work with You as a way to cut down on those unnecessary messages.
- Someone asks for background information on e-mail.
Just point to The History of Email infographic.
These links should take care of most of the content problems that arise in the classroom. I’m not yet the super-emailing teacher described in the recent Atlantic article, “Composition 1.01: How Email Can Change the Way Professors Teach”; but I’m sure the only way to aspire to that level of interaction with students is to have clear guidelines and tips ready to share.
What strategies work well for you? If you share a resources or suggest a tip, leave me a comment below.