A designer Lessons ESL lesson plan developed by George Chilton
Lesson: Cover Letter – Stand out by Breaking all the Rules
Level: Upper-intermediate – advanced, Business English, Trinity Grade 8 +
Age group: Adults, business
Skills focus: Writing, register
Time: 60-90 minutes
Offensive language warning!
This post comes with a story that has gone viral over the last year or so. Roanald Dvorak applied for a job with a very unusual cover letter and – somehow – got the job. That’s the story anyway, though it does seem to be a clever viral marketing campaign by Aviary.com, rather than something bonefide. But whatever the truth is, here’s a lesson plan for you. The cover letter has some potentially offensive language – so use it with your own best judgement and at your own risk. I wouldn’t normally use this lesson with teenagers, unless they have a high level of maturity (there must be some, right?), but it works well with Business English groups.
Stage one –
Write “stick out like a sore thumb” on the board. Ask if any of the students know or can guess the meaning. Is it positive or negative?
If they don’t come to a conclusion – help them by explaining it means to appear out of place, and it’s generally used in negative contexts.
Find out if they can think of any other ways of saying this in both positive and negative ways
- Stand out (+) (from the crowd) – In order to be successful you need to stand out from the crowd.
- To be one in a million (+) – to be unique or special in some way
- Stick out (-) (like a sore thumb) – he came to work wearing shorts annd stuck out like a sore thumb.
- Be like a fish out of water (-) – to feel very awkward or uncomfortable in a given situation
Ask your students to get in small groups and discuss times when they have stood out from the crowd, been called one in a million or been a fish out of water. Monitor discussions – take notes and feed back with an error correction slot, especially focusing on errors using the expressions themselves.
Next ask the students to call out some thoughts on how they might stand out from the crowd if they were applying for a job in English. How could they impress potential new employers?
Afterwards, get feedback from the group and write some of their ideas on the board.
Some ideas might include –
- Researching the business thoroughly
- Being yourself
- Visiting the business in person when giving them your CV
- Having an interesting cover letter
- Making sure the CV is up-to-date and clear
Stage Three – Language Focus – Informal vs Formal Register
Write the following two sentences on the board. Ask whether the sentences are positive or negative:
This meal is wonderful Mrs. Peters!
This meal is the shit Mrs. Peters!
Your students might be surprised to hear that both are positive – adding the definite article ‘the’ to shit makes it positive in British and American Slang (I don’t want to generalise further though, so adapt it if it doesn’t work in your version). However, they should probably be advised that this is best avoided altogether, especially considering that missing the article would have completely the opposite meaning to that intended. And, in either case, Mrs Peters would probably pour soup over their heads.
Elicit the difference between the two sentences – (register). One is formal and the other informal and possibly rude.
Then ask what register a cover letter should normally be written in (formal English).
Next project the following photograph (or give printouts if you don’t have the means).
Give the students a few minutes to read the letter. Go over any questions or doubts they may have about the language.
- Dope – meaning cool, excellent, or possibly drugs, but probably not in this case.
- Toupe [sic]- misspelled – Taupe – a colour.
Have the students discuss the following:
- Is the letter formal or informal?
- Do you think the letter is effective? Why / why not?
- Would you employ the person who wrote the letter?
- Do you think he was employed or not?
Monitor as they discuss and answer any questions. Take notes of any significant errors they make. After 10 minutes or so, get feedback from the group and correct any errors they may have made in the discussion.
Stage Four –Writing – Changing the Register
Explain to the students that the story goes that Roanald got the job – the company appreciated the humour and decided to employ him (Though, it’s still debateable whether this is real or not!).
If it has not already been noted, point out that Roanald finished his letter with the rather unconventional, “Love Roanald.”
Ask the group how a formal letter like this should normally be signed:
If recipient’s name is known:
If recipient’s name is unknown:
Now ask your students to re-write the letter (either as homework or in class time), changing the register so that it would be more appropriate to a cover letter. Tell them they may leave out any details Roanald included. Collect and correct these letters later.
Give them some guide questions to help them.
- How does the letter writer describe himself physically?
- What skills does he have?
- How would he add value to the business?
Designer Lessons by George Chilton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.