GCSE English Language: How to write a Formal Letter

You may be asked to write a formal letter in the Writing section of your English Language exam.

Here is an example from a previous exam paper:

The following is an extract from a letter from a pensioner to your local newspaper:


Dear Editor,


Isn’t it about time we considered raising the legal age for driving from 17? Statistics show that a large proportion of accidents involve drivers aged 17 or 18. The number of casualties is really shocking and, as a result of this, it costs huge sums of money to insure young drivers. Many other countries set the age at 18 and it could make sense to raise it to 20 or even 21.


This may not be a popular suggestion with young people, but it will be for their own good in the long term. I didn’t drive until I was 25 and it didn’t do me any harm.

You decide to write to the newspaper giving our views on this subject.

Write your letter.

 What to do

 1. Jot down the following ‘ingredients’ in your answer booklet, so that you don’t forget them:

  •  Facts / statistics
  • Anecdote
  • Criticise the opposite opinion
  • Rhetorical question

(If you are the kind of person who finds it hard to think of things to say, this can be really helpful. You could even have one paragraph for each ingredient…)

 2.      Decide what your views are going to be. It doesn’t matter what they really are; think about which point of view you will be able to write about most easily.

 3.      Plan what you will put in each paragraph. This might just mean adding some details to the list of ingredients you wrote at the beginning, like this:

  • Facts / statistics – research shows that the majority of RTAs involve drivers aged 22-30. Make up some statistics…
  • Anecdote – tell a personal story about the time my older sister passed her driving test…
  • Criticise the opposite opinion – Explain one of the main reasons people think teenagers are dangerous drivers, and say why it’s not true…
  • Rhetorical question – Could start with this: If we treat teenagers as if they are irresponsible, won’t we ultimately be sending the message that they are?

 You should also number these in the order you think makes the most sense. It’s quite nice to start with a rhetorical question, for example…

 4. Write your letter.

  •  Start a new page in your answer booklet.
  • Write your ‘address’ at the top right hand corner. Write the date underneath.
  • Write the address of the recipient a little way down on the left.
  • Begin formally:

 Dear Sir / Madam,

Dear Editor,

To whom it may concern,

Dear Mr. Codswollop,

 You may want to include a ‘subject’ next, a bit like you would in an email:

 Re.: Raising the legal age for driving

  •  Write 3 – 4 paragraphs, following the plan you made at the beginning. Whatever it is you are writing about, sound as if you are an expert. It should give the reader the impression that you know exactly what you’re talking about. Pay attention to your vocabulary. Some good ways of beginning your paragraphs include:

 I don’t wish to be dogmatic, but I believe…

There are many erudite arguments for / against…

There is a substantial / extensive amount of research indicating that…

The need for action is exigent.

  •  Sign off:

 Yours faithfully, (if you don’t know the name of the person to whom you are writing)

Yours sincerely, (if you do)

Best regards,

 Click on the link below for an example, written by the lovely people in year 11:

 How to Write a Formal Letter


Year 10 Descriptive Writing: P.A.R.T.Y.


From the overhead speakers, the tinny, repetitive notes of ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ added to the cacophony of sound below. The shouts of the children, the whirring of the candy-floss machine, the squeaking of the balloon as it was twisted this way and that, the squeals of delight that emitted from the gathered observers as they recognised it as a giraffe, the cries of ‘Me next!’ that followed… such sounds merged together in this sticky, sweet melting pot of birthday cheer. It was a room thick with sugar and noise. 

            Two older girls sat hunched on the sofa, staring at their phones defiantly, all beanie hats and fringes. We are too old for this, their frowns seemed to say, and far too cool. The text message alert from the phone of one drew the attention of both; for a moment their frowns grew stronger; then, the simultaneous acknowledgement of a smile: he was on his way.

            A sudden explosion from the table by the window caused the whole room to spasm. A balloon had exploded, trodden underfoot by a passing father in pursuit of a bowl of Wotsits. Then the wailing of the newborn, and long, cold glares cast in the direction of the offending criminal.

          As if on cue, beaming away the frowns with the whites of her teeth, his wife appears in the doorway, bearer of an oversized and oversugared cake…


Year 10 Homework: Describing a Place

Finish your description and bring it to tomorrow’s lesson. Remember the Golden Rules:

1. It’s not a story, so nothing needs to happen.

2. The more details you include the more imaginative you will hve to be. Imagine you are there and make things up!

3. It’s poetry. (But in prose.) Think about the sounds of the words, the length of the sentences, the pace of the writing.


It’s like a giant plughole in the basin of the world I thought, looking down at the chasm. But without a plug. And dusty. The diamond mine was located in one of the world’s largest deserts – not far from the wadis of Jordan and the Dead Sea. Around the curve of its eastern edge lay a chequerboard of squares, as if etched into the sand by a stick-weilding child on a beach. Inside these squares were the remains of the houses and buildings that had been homes and offices during the mine’s functional days. Like a model village, they lined the criss-cross of roads with mathematical precision. The effect was strange: the regimented alignment of the buildings and the swirling circle of the mine that seemed to move if you let your eyes relax. But the strangest thing about it was not what you could see, but what you couldn’t. Where were the people?

Click here for the 38 Most Haunting Abandoned Places in the World


How does Hosseini begin the story of ‘The Kite Runner’?

The novel’s opening establishes a highly personal, intimate first person narrative voice that has distinctive qualities. It is very much a speaking voice, with fragmented sentences (‘Because the past claws its way out’) that lend it an informal, conversational quality. It is also serious and reflective in tone: ‘I became what I am today…’ and ‘I thought of the life I had lived…’ are pensive, perhaps heavy. We may sense a cathartic quality beneath the surface of the language, as if the narrator is somehow cleansing himself of past events through the act of storytelling.

Secondly, there are a number of unanswered questions posed by the beginning, most obviously: What was it that happened on that day in the winter of 1975? How did it ‘change everything’? The answers are hinted at; we can infer from the ‘overcast’ and ‘frigid’ weather that it was a negative experience, and the mention of a ‘past of unatoned sins’ hints at a guilty act, a shameful ‘sin’ of unspeakable nature. We must continue reading to find out the precise nature of this sin.

In terms of setting, it is clear that we are in the real world – references to actual places such as ‘Golden Gate Park’ in ‘San Francisco’ make this clear. It is not explicitly stated, but we may well deduce that the past events of the winter of 1975 occurred in either Kabul or Pakistan, as someone called ‘Rahim Khan’, calling from Pakistan, is depicted as synonymous with ‘my past of unatoned sins.’ The two settings are interesting; readers may well detect a tension between the East and West, or, more specifically, make connections with the recent conflict between America and Afghanistan.

There is a gap of 26 years between the ‘today’ of the narrative’s frame and the events that form the main plot. This considerably lengthy period of time may lead us to presume that the novel will tell the story of those 26 years, and to deduce that the narrator – if 12 years old in 1975 – is now 38 as he tells it.

Other characters are mentioned briefly – we are told that Rahim Khan is a ‘friend’ and that Hassan is (was?) ‘the hare-lipped kite runner’. Who exactly Baba is remains unclear for now. Interestingly, there are the voices of both Rahim Khan on the telephone in the present and Hassan ‘whispering’ from the past. Both have a memorable, haunting quality, as if their speakers are communicating from a far away time and place.

Finally, the ‘kite runner’ of the novel’s title is revealed, and the image of the kites in the sky acts as the catalyst for Amir’s memories. They are depicted as vivid and free – ‘high above the trees’ and ‘floating side by side’, hinting at some of the novel’s key themes of childhood, freedom and friendship.


Taking GCSE or A Level English exams this summer?

The English Department will be running after school practice paper sessions, starting on Tuesday January 21st in L36. Come along and have a go at a past paper, in timed exam conditions. We’ll even mark it and give you feedback.

Tuesday 21st Jan: 4-6
Tuesday 28th Jan: 4-6
Tuesday 4th Feb: 4-6

Monday 24th Feb: 3:30-5:30
Tuesday 25th Feb: 4-6
Monday 3rd March: 3:30-5:30
Tuesday 4th March: 4-6
Monday 10th March: 3:30-5:30
Tuesday 11th March: 4-6
Monday 17th March: 3:30-5:30
Tuesday 18th March: 4-6
Monday 24th March: 3:30-5:30
Monday 31st March: 3:30-5:30
Tuesday 1st April: 3:30-5:30

WARNING: Attending these sessions will significantly improve your exam results.