August 13, 2012

Using spam to learn about persuasive language


A genius lesson or two from Scottish colleagues who immerse students in real world spams in order to see what kinds of reply they might write:

I gave a class of twelve year olds a selection of genuine spam emails and asked them to write down what their replies to these would be. It mostly purported to be from a distressed Nigerian monarch living in exile looking for a friendly Briton to share a fortune with. Some of the kids quickly twigged and wrote sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek responses. But a few of them seemed genuinely intrigued and happy to enter into correspondence; others tried to negotiate the terms to make more money. It was this naivety and innocence that I wanted to address in the pupils. They had to become aware of dastardly tricks.

As an English teacher, it was important to zoom in on the persuasive language techniques used in spam emails. By the end of the unit pupils could tell you that spam emails use terms of endearment to hook in the recipient, include hyperlinks to news articles to make their stories more plausible, describe accidents or impending threats to generate sympathy, and specify tight deadlines to make the deal seem juicier.

Read more and get some resources for this on the Scottish Book Trust site. Hat tip on this one to my old colleague Bill Boyd.

Photo: Holley St Germain


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