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How to Apply Composition Techniques to a Cover Letter

By Michael J. Berntsen

Lesson Plan

Grade Level

Undergraduate (Face-to-Face or Online)

Objectives

Students will learn how to apply the techniques learned in a college-level composition class to business writing and other genres they will write in during their future careers.

Students will reinforce their understanding of various ideas in composition studies discussed throughout the semester, including Aristotle’s Triangle, Toulmin’s Model, and paragraph structure.1

Students will demonstrate their understanding of expository writing and argumentative approaches.

Background and Context

I provide these exercises near the end of a semester-long composition class to show students the relevancy of what they have been learning to nonacademic contexts. I teach the cover letter lesson in both Composition 1 and 2. Students say they appreciate the lesson since it helps them see how they can apply writing techniques beyond our class. This session occurs after we discuss résumé-writing tips, job research, and job-description analysis.

Total Estimated Class Time

A single class period (approx. 50 mins.)

Sequence of Activities

  1. Reading and Analysis (10–15 mins.)

Students read the sample cover letter, then complete exercise 1, in which they find the cover letter’s thesis, transitions, and elements they think were mentioned in the job description.

  1. Class Discussion (5 mins.)

As a class, we discuss and compare students’ answers. Usually, there is a little uncertainty as to what the thesis sentence is, so this discussion is crucial. It’s also helpful for students to see which transitions they spotted and which ones they missed. The last discussion point about the job-description elements further helps them comprehend how to refer to materials provided by an employer.

  1. Small-Group Analysis (15–20 mins.)

I break the class up into three groups: one focusing on general paragraph structure, one focusing on Aristotle’s Triangle, and the last one focusing on Toulmin’s Model. Using exercise 2, the students analyze and dissect structural points and observe how business writing requires the same conventions that expository essays do.

  1. Class Discussion (5–10 mins.)

Each group presents its responses and discusses how the overlapping concepts help to build this genre of writing.

Possible Follow-Up Activities

Using job descriptions that they find or that I provide, I ask the students to create their own cover letter for a particular job. Usually, I have them find job descriptions related to their majors. These descriptions are offered through job-posting sites. This approach helps them to see what types of jobs may be out there for their future careers. Since the cover letter can be sent when they are applying for actual jobs, the students are grateful to have a piece of writing that they can reuse.

After this stage, they post their cover letters to a peer-review forum, or, if time allows, they share them during small-group exercises in class.

Possible Alterations

I have used these exercises for online composition classes, making only minor adjustments. For online classes, I scaffold a bit more, so students turn in their responses for exercise 1 to a discussion board and respond to their peers’ answers. Afterward, I place students into the three types of groups used in exercise 2. Each group posts a response to a discussion board, and then other groups respond.

You can certainly use these assignments in secondary education courses as well. Even if you do not focus on Aristotle’s Triangle or Toulmin’s Model, you can still use the paragraph-structure exercise to reinforce how paragraphs are organized in any genre of writing.

Note

1 Aristotle’s Triangle, also known as the rhetorical triangle, includes the foundational ways in which speakers or writers can appeal to their audiences. The three components include pathos (appeals to an audience’s emotion), logos (appeals to an audience’s sense of logic and reasoning), and ethos (appeals that establish an author’s credibility for an audience). Stephen Toulmin created his model to show the fundamental elements of argumentation in writing. The basic elements include claim, data, and warrant or synthesis. He argues that these three components are needed for any argument to be successful, and this structure is the basis for most paragraphs for expository writing. The traditional formula for structuring a paragraph involves starting with a topic sentence argument, followed by examples, and ending with synthesis sentences.

Lesson Materials

Like an Essay: Cover Letter Exercise 1 (Individual Exercise) 

Like an Essay: Cover Letter Exercise 2 (Group Work) 

Published 10 September 2020

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