Thanks to Bedford/St. Martin’s

These entries, written by Traci Gardner, are copied from TechNotes, a free newsletter for writing teachers from Bedford/St. Martin’s. For information about TechNotes, go to

Spam, Spam, Spam, TechNotes, and Spam

Sound like a description of the contents of your Inbox? This month Yahoo has released new spam-fighting e-mail tools and Microsoft’s Outlook 2003 has launched with additional spam filters; and all the talk of the FCC’s “Do Not Call” list for telemarketers has been taken up as a model for those who want to pass similar “Do Not Spam” lists. The articles below discuss spam solutions that can provide interesting conversation in the classroom.

Related Discussion and Writing Topics
  • Is spam hurting your use of e-mail? A class survey of the number of messages class members receive can provide an interesting snapshot. Use the information that you gather to think about how prevalent spam really is; then extend your discussion to how members of your class deal with the spam.

  • Describe a time you were tricked by a piece of spam. What made you open the message? How did the piece trick you? What made it successful? How did being tricked change your system for reading e-mail—did you become more spam-saavy?

  • What’s your solution? Christine Boese provides interesting alternatives in her CNN article. Brainstorm a list of other unusual ways to deal with spam. Students can work in groups to write proposals that explain how their solutions work.

  • Gather at least a dozen spammy messages and examine the epistles for language use with an eye toward discovering the rhetoric of spam. What goes into a spam message? Can you tell a message is spam at a glance? Do you have to open the message first? Use your collection of messages to define how language use shapes these messages.

  • Try writing a spam parody. Once you’ve had a chance to explore how language is used in spam messages, write a message to a friend or family member urging the reader to do something (remember that most spam is trying to sell you something). What features would you need to include to get your reader’s attention in the first place?—after all lots of spam is thrown away unopened. What will you include in the message to make sure it’s read?