Charlene Brown

  Critical thinking, General education development (GED), Job skills, Life skills, Literacy, Reading instruction, Vocabulary development, Work environment

Learner Level:
  This activity was developed for participants who read from a 3.0 to a 9.0 grade level. Participants reading at higher levels could use similar strategies with company manuals or other texts.

Time Frame:
  1 hour

Learner Grouping:
  Individual, Small group, Whole class

  This lesson was taught in a small manufacturing plant with fewer than 100 employees. The company had a consistent problem with employees not understanding the memos posted on bulletin boards.

  Not available

  Jefferson County Public Schools Adult Education

Type of Program:
  Workplace education

Student Population Served:
  Basic skills (grade levels 5-8.9)

Interpreting workplace memos and notices

The participants will read company memos and write summary sentences while working as part of a group. __________________________________________________________

Learning Objective:
The participants will be able to read memos and summarize the content.

Primary Skill:
Read with understanding

Secondary Skills:
Convey ideas in writing

Learner Needs & Goals:
Participants must understand the instructions communicated to them by their supervisors and other company officials. Participants make many costly errors when they fail to understand changes and procedures communicated in memos.

Learning Activity Description:
1. Prior to class, collect several memos and other notices that are either posted by the company on bulletin boards or sent by the human resources department.

2. Show the video, PBS LiteracyLink Workplace Essential Skills Series--Reading for a Purpose. If you donít have the video, be sure to discuss the importance of knowing the purposes, structures, features and strategies for workplace reading.

3. Explain that one of the most important ways a company communicates with its employees is through the use of memos and notices. Ask the participants to name the ways that the company distributes these important communications. The participants may mention the following: placing them in envelopes with paychecks; posting them in a prominent place such as the breakroom or near the time clock; having the supervisors hand them to each employee; or by mailing them to employees at home. Have participants relate the possible importance of a memo to the manner in which it was delivered.

4. Break the class into teams of three and distribute one copy of a memo to each team. Instruct the teams to summarize, in no more than three sentences, what their memo says. They will have 10 minutes. Each team must appoint a recorder, a reporter, a timekeeper, and a facilitator. Ask the participants to list any words that might be confusing to a new employee. These words might include industry specific vocabulary, jargon, or acronyms.

5. The teams report to the large group by reading the memo and reporting the teamsí comments. As the teams note the unclear vocabulary, the instructor writes it on the board. Have the teams develop a plan for defining these terms and providing examples for the participants. Ask the teams to present their definitions and examples.

Materials and Resources:

  • Sample memos from company bulletin boards
  • Dictionary
  • Blackboard/chalk or Dry-erase Board/markers
  • PBS LiteracyLink Workplace Essential Skills Series titled Reading for a Purpose available through KET, The Kentucky Network - Enterprise Division, 560 Cooper Drive, Lexington, KY 40502-2200, phone (800) 354-9067.


Using a different memo and a bulletin board notice, have participants answer the following questions:

  • Who is the audience for the memo?
  • Who sent the memo?
  • When was the memo sent?
  • What is the purpose of the memo?
  • What is the tone of the memo?
  • Summarize the memo.
  • Why would the sender use a memo rather than a letter?
  • Why would the sender use a memo rather than telling the employee in person?

I would have the participants write a memo to communicate a particular problem or need.


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