3 Ways to Learn English from Phishing Emails

The final week of Term 2 is here and I am sure all of us cannot wait to begin the June holidays! This week, to bask in the holiday mood, we will put our feet up and look at authentic learning of English from a phishy (pun intended!) email that was in the spotlight just about two weeks ago.


What inspired this post was the fact that I had received this phishing email warning in a group chat. The great thing about being in a community is that we share and in this case, my friend was alerting us about how this particular email is not authentic even though at first glance, it may seem like it is. This is how that email looks like:


Does it look familiar to you? I can imagine many of you nodding your heads vigorously. After all, the bank was quick to pick up on the scam email and the media was writing about it to warn the general public against it too. (see https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/phishing-scheme-targeting-posb-customers-dbs-10201828) As a member of public, I was glad to receive the warning so as not to fall prey to such scams. As an English teacher, I could hardly wait to share this email with my children as I read the email that contained numerous errors in grammar and punctuation!

Today, let me share with you a few ideas on how you can seize the teachable moment when presented with a phishing email.

1) Learn the relevant real-world vocabulary

You would have noticed that I have been using the term “phishing”, which refers to a way of obtaining sensitive personal information such as your banking account details, credit card number or password through the Internet, in order to perform unauthorised banking transactions.

For adults and children who read the news regularly, it may not be an unfamiliar term. However, this is definitely new vocabulary to children who may not have exposure to such news. Why is it useful to pick up such vocabulary even though it is unlikely to be tested in vocabulary or be applied in composition writing? On one hand, in the event that an oral topic related to scams is tested, such real-world terms will definitely be useful and demonstrate the child’s general knowledge. On the other hand, just the fact that we are living in a world which uses such language will make it essential for the children to know what such terms mean, don’t you think?

2) Learn to identify features of a phishing email

Living in a technology and media-suffused environment where fake news and information are often prevalent, it is important for children to start learning how to practise discretion while processing information they read online.

A fun way to do this will be to place an authentic email or two from the bank beside the phishing email. Next, ask the children to make a guess on whether the emails are authentic and to explain their decision. This provides a good opportunity for children to hone their critical thinking skills.

During the reveal, parents can proceed to point out important details to look out for such as

  1. checking of the email address of the sender (authentic vs. fake)

  2. accuracy of the language used (Are there lots of errors in writing? Should an official document that is released to the public be filled with errors?)

  3. the tone that a scam email may employ to create a sense of urgency in the readers

Children will enjoy being able to make the right guesses and more importantly, learn to look out for features to help them differentiate between an authentic and fake email in future. You may even wish to task your child to research more about how to identify a scam email and ask them to share their findings with you.

3) Spot the errors in text!

Reading an “official” email that contains numerous language errors will definitely set alarm bells ringing in my head. End off the discussion on the phishing email by going through the text with your child and by correcting the language to be more grammatically accurate. This would mean that parents need to have read the text first and be able to spot some of the errors. A word of encouragement to parents is that, do not worry if you are unable to spot any errors or if you did not spot all of them. Go through the text with your child and if there are any uncertainties, you can try seeking your child’s teacher’s help for the short passage. Like I always said, when children see their parents learning, that motivates them to learn too.

For instance, here are the errors that I have picked out from part of the text in the phishing email:


Are you able to correct them? Leave us a comment with your answers and see if you are able to edit them accurately.

I hope you enjoyed the authentic learning activities shared in this phishy post today! More importantly, remember that it is always better to be safe than to be sorry. Be vigilant whenever you are reading online. If you would like to read more about authentic learning relating to scams in everyday life, do check out our previous post for more ideas! For now, enjoy the last week of school and look forward to your well-deserved long break!

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