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A business letter

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In this activity, learners attempt to re-write an inappropriately informal business letter in a more appropriate, formal style.

Catherine Morley, Teacher, Trainer, Writer

They then compare their version with a model text, helping them to notice the conventional formulae used in this type of letter, and incorporate some of this new language into another similar letter.

This activity is particularly suitable for higher level Business English students, or adult learners who need to write formal letters in English in real life.

Make enough copies of these worksheets so that each student can have one.


  • In order to get students thinking about business letters, ask how many reasons they can think of for writing this type of letter. Give a couple of examples, then get students to brainstorm in pairs, before feeding back to the class.
  • Give learners the inappropriately informal letter (Worksheet 1). Ask a few simple comprehension questions.
    • Have they been in contact before?
    • What's it about?
    • What are the problems with the system?
  • Then ask what's wrong with the text. (Too informal, doesn't follow letter-writing conventions). Elicit some of the kinds of things they will need to change to make it more formal (vocabulary, sentence structure, layout, paragraphing, greeting and close).
  • In pairs, students re-write the letter to make it more appropriate as a formal letter. Don't help them too much at this stage - the idea is that students write the best letter they are capable of using their existing language resources. This creates a need for the conventional letter-writing language which may be 'missing' from their current knowledge.
  • Give students the model letter (Worksheet 2) and ask them to compare it with their letter. Emphasise that the model is only one possible way of re-writing the letter - this can lead to a discussion on whether any differences are equally correct. Ask the students to identify language from the model which they could use to improve their letter. In this way, some of the conventional sentence frames which are so common in business letters are 'fed in'.
  • At this stage you might also wish to draw attention to the conventional greetings and endings for formal letters. (In British English, if the name of the person is used, e.g. Dear Mr. Jones, then the ending is Yours sincerely. If you don't know the name of the person you are writing to, then the letter begins Dear Sir / Madam, and ends Yours faithfully.) It may also be worth highlighting the punctuation used here, i.e. a comma after the greeting, as this can vary between languages. In addition, some students are not familiar with the form of address Ms, which refers to a woman without specifying her marital status. Other issues which are problematic for your learners, such as paragraphing, over-long sentences etc., can also be dealt with here.
  • Students choose a situation from Worksheet 3, brainstorm in pairs, and select appropriate language from their own letter and Worksheet 2. They then write the letter, working collaboratively. This stage could also be done individually for homework if time is short. The letters can be collected in by the teacher for assessment / correction purposes, or used for a peer-evaluation activity. (See the Peer evaluation form for an example of how this can be done).
Language level
Language Level: 
Upper intermediate: B2