“What’s In Your Mailbox?” – Help Students Organize Their Emails

It is THAT time of the school year. We are in week five of instruction and have begun diving into all the formative and observation data we have been gathering. 

Unfortunately, for some students, this data diving will result in some parent communication. 

My 8th grade colleague and I reached out to some parents this week about missing student work. 

What we learned was surprising. Turns out some students do not regularly read their school emails. In fact, some may or may not have ever opened their school email accounts. 

My colleague and I decided to address this issue in our weekly online Enrichment class. 

Here’s what we did:

Utilizing a Utensil

First, about 30 minutes before the Enrichment class began, we sent an email message to all the grade eight students. We asked them to bring a spoon to Enrichment. They had to have their camera on when they arrived in the Zoom, and they had to make the spoon visible. I even included a photo in the email to ensure they understood the instructions. 

Who Is Checking Their Email?

Then, when class began, we opened with our usual icebreaker activities – shout outs, celebration items, new products we’ve discovered, etc. During this warm-up, students began to notice the spoons. 

I revealed that the spoons were a test of our use of email communication – how many students regularly checked their school email address? Turns out it was about 50/50. 

This kickstarted our exploration of email usage. 

Small Group Discussions

We broke the students into small groups and assigned them to breakout rooms. In their groups, they had to answer and discuss the following questions:

  1. How many emails are in your school inbox?
  2. How many of the emails are unread?
  3. In your group, who has the most unread emails?

These questions were designed to provoke students to look at their email accounts with a critical eye – to really see how they manage the mail they receive. The final question, about who had the most unread messages, was a way to keep the discussions fun and interactive.

Share the Numbers

When the students returned from their small-group discussions, we had them post the number of unread messages they had on a shared Nearpod Collaborate board. The numbers kept the discussion alive and prompted lots of laughter and surprise. Several students, who have been students at our school their entire academic careers, had unread messages in the thousands! 

Playing off this high level of interest, we shifted the conversation to the various ways students organized their email accounts. Some students talked about their use of archiving, while others shared their systems for keeping messages in specific folders. 

This led to a conversation about organization in general, with students sharing some of the tools they use to keep track of due dates and their other responsibilities. 

Before planning this activity, my grade level colleagues and I had a conversation about students and their technology knowledge. There was an assumption by some teachers that students were more technologically proficient than we were, so spending time talking about organizing emails was a waste of time. But, our interactions with students early in the year revealed that many students struggled with managing these tools effectively. We decided that addressing this deficiency early in the school year, rather than later, was important. Many of the issues that teachers complain of when it comes to student behavior are more-often-than-not organizational concerns. Perhaps students are not turning in work on time because they really don’t know the deadlines. Students might not respond to our reminders or our cajoling messages because they don’t regularly read their mail, or our messages are buried under a pile of other unread messages. 

Any help we can give students in terms of organization is time well spent.

If you have any questions or comments about this activity, don’t hesitate to reach out. 

Ed X!

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