BrELT coLAB: a lesson plan on informal letters by João Pereira



When it comes to writing, we tend to focus on emphasize formal language, but what about informality? This lesson will show you how.

If you have students getting ready to take the Cambridge First Certificate, you will find João’s lesson useful. Even if they aren’t, we are sure they can benefit from the lesson.

Bio: João Pereira, based in Pouso Alegre, has been an English teacher and coordinator for roughly fourteen years. In addition to teaching mostly for exams, he has also worked as a Cambridge English speaking examiner for nearly three years.


Firstly, I tell my students that in today’s lesson we will be learning how to write informal letters. In addition,  I tell them that there are various kinds of letters in English but our focus will be to learn how to write a to a friend and a letter of application only, tasks that might  be required in part 2 of Cambridge first writing test.


  • I begin by explaining to them that a successful letter or any other piece of writing should be prepared carefully, otherwise they might not get the score they need or expect to get. I remind them of the assessment criteria we have discussed in other lessons recently and elicit from them which criteria those are. I write the criteria on the board: content/ communicative achievement/ organization and language. I briefly talk about them and show the students slide one.
  • I explain to them that despite the fact that letters can be both formal and informal (depending on the target reader) the layout conventions are always the same. I explain the layout conventions to them and point out some differences between formal and informal letters, placing emphasis on “greetings and “endings”. I draw a table on the board like the one shown below and ask the students to work in pairs sort things from slide 1into the best categories.











While students conduct the task, I walk around to classroom to provide them with help if necessary. I make the necessary corrections and hand out to them a letter that Marcella wrote to her mom. I give them 5 minutes to read the letter and then in groups of three or four, they are supposed to talk to each other about whether Marcella uses appropriate layout conventions as showed in slide 1. I allow them roughly 10 minutes todiscussit and give them another 5 minutes to report their findings to the whole class.


  • Once the discussion is over, I show them slides 3 and 4 and talk about some other differences they can find in formal and informal letters. I write some example sentences on the board to help them understand better.
  • I explain to the students that it is extremely important to pay close attention to their readership so that they can use appropriate register. They need to have a positive effect on the readership by choosing the register accordingly. I write the sentence below on the board and tell them that this sentence was in a letter I have written to my mom, I ask them to spot the mistake and to give me suggestions for improvement.


Dear mom,


I am writing to inform you how everything is going here in Spain…


  • I refer back to Marcella’s letter and in groups of three students have to think of alternatives to make her letter more informal as far as the highlighted sentences are concerned. After they have done that, I ask them to help me complete the table shown in slide 5. I might be prepared to give them further explanation as more than one alternative is possible to replace the highlighted sentences. We check answers and clear possible doubts up.


  • I tell the students that they will plan an informal letter. However, before preparing the letter itself they will have to carry out a task that consists of the following:


I tell the students we will play a game. I open the word file entitled ‘functions (informal letters)  and choose five categories, i.e. beginnings, apologies, invitations, giving news and signing off. I provide the students with sentences written on small pieces of paper, which refer to these categories, and ask them to work in groups of four to sort the short sentences into the best categories. The first group to finish the activity is the winner.


  • I show them the last slide and tell them they will read the task rubrics in silence carefully. After reading, I ask them to work in pairs take notes relevant to the task on a piece of paper. They must consider the topics below, previously looked into:
  1. Content
  2. Communicative achievement
  3. Organization
  4. Language



I ask them to talk to the other groups and decide which ideas are more appropriate or interesting to write a letter at home. They write this letter and hand in for correction afterwards. I remind them that the letter should contain from 140 to 190 words.






Thank you for your last letter

I’m sorry haven’t written for such a long time

It’s ages since I’ve heard from you.

hope you and your family are well.


Giving news

You’ll never believe that…

Listen, did I tell you about…?

This is just to let you know that…



I’m writing to apologise for missing your party.

I’m really sorry that I forgot to send you a birthday card.

I’m so sorry for not going to your party yesterday.



I’m having a party on Friday and we hope you’ll be able to come.

I was wondering if you’d like to go to the theater with us.

Would you like to go to the theater with us?


Signing off

Love, + first name

Lots of love, +first name

All the best, + first name

Best wishes, + first name



Give my regards to…

Say hello to…

Hope to hear from you soon.

Write soon!

Once again, thank you for all your help.


Marcella’s letter:

Dear Mum,

I felt obliged to write to inform you how everything is going here in Spain since I started university. Accept my sincere apologies for not writing sooner but I’ve been so busy I really have not had a suitable opportunity.

I managed to find a very nice place to live. It’s a small apartment across the street from the university. I’m sharing the apartment with a girl called Marcella who seems to be a nice person and has been living here for a year.

I have become familiar with the neighborhood and have been practicing my Spanish, which is improving considerably every day.

I hope to return home for Christmas once I finish the examinations. It will be wonderful to see all of you again. I’m feeling homesick, as you may know.

I look forward to hearing from you soon.


Yours sincerely,



PowerPoint Presentation


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