English writing skills are absolutely essential in today’s world. The problem is…writing practice is boring!
By the time you finish saying, “Take out a sheet of paper and a pen”, half your class is already asleep. Besides, in today’s world…who still writes with paper and pen? Computer literacy goes hand in hand with learning to read and write; students are expected to master all kinds of electronic communication and online publishing tools. So the big question is: how can we assign writing tasks that help students develop the writing and online publishing skills they need in today’s world? That’s easy! Try any of these 7 writing tools you would never have imagined using in your ESL classroom.
7 Online Writing Tools for the ESL Classroom
This should come as no surprise, as I have been writing about the advantages of email writing in the ESL classroom for a while now. But some ESL teachers are still reluctant to use email for writing practice. Chances are, our students will need to write emails in English some time in the near future, so why not prepare them for it? Email writing is an area that encompasses a whole lot more than simple letter writing. Students need to learn how to convey the right tone and use the appropriate email etiquette. And there is no better way to practice than online, by sending real emails to you and the rest of the class.
Blogging is no longer for individuals with tons of free time on their hands. Company websites often have blogs where they report the latest industry trends, and inform customers about services and products. Blogging requires a specific set of skills, and blog writing is different from story writing or journaling. Blogging is a skill your students could really use in today’s world. There are numerous free blogging platforms you can use with your class, from Wordpress to Pen.io, a website that allows students to create their own custom URL, write a blog post and publish it immediately.
Murals or online corkboards are wonderful collaborative tools where students can not only share images but also write about them. I absolutely love Mural.ly, and I really recommend it because it gives you a variety of text options, from sticky notes you can add to describe an image, to titles and bigger text boxes. Murals are the perfect way to combine writing with multimedia.
Forums allow students to practice their writing skills but also their communication skills, by giving them the opportunity to interact with other ESL students. You need to make sure you find the right forum for your students, though; you need to make sure it’s moderated for appropriate content and safe for students to use. Dave’s ESL Café offers a great student forum where students can ask others for recommendations and share information on topics that interest them. If you want a more controlled environment, you might want to consider starting a closed Facebook group as a space for more informal interactions. Students from other ESL classes in your school could join, thus expanding the network.
Journal writing is also a big favorite with ESL teachers, but have you ever tried an online journal? Penzu offers exactly that, an online diary your students can access from any mobile device. Students have the option to insert photos and comments, and while the journal is completely private by default, students may share individual entries with you via email. ESL teachers may also create a “classroom” and provide students with a code that allows them to share their entries as a collection.
Sometimes ESL students need a little something extra to write a story. Storybird is an online publishing platform that not only engages students with cool tools, but also lets them pair their writing with beautiful art. Once you’ve tried Storybird, your learners’ stories will never be the same!
Try… Discussion Platforms!
Discussions are great speaking activities in the ESL classroom, but they pose some problems. A handful of students might dominate the conversation while others sit quietly and don’t respond. Some feel confident speaking out loud; others have plenty to share but are too self-conscious to chime in. CollaborizeClassroom is a free collaborative platform where students and teachers can interact. It may look and feel like a forum, but what you get is actually your own free site to share with your students. Simply add a discussion topic and let students write in their responses. You can attach videos, documents or images to spark the conversation. Finally, you can also track student participation.
I’m not telling anyone to put aside the paper and pen, and make all writing online. All I’m saying is, whether we like it or not, our students need to have online literacy; they need to be able to communicate in English through a variety of platforms and tools. Choose one, or several, but I definitely recommend you add at least one to the mix. And the beauty of keeping at least some of these writing activities online is that you’ll have fewer notebooks, files or papers scattered around your desk!
How do I choose the right one?
As always, you’ll need to consider your students’ needs. Business English students will definitely make the most out of email writing, while a group of introverted teens may really connect with an online journal. But by choosing at least one online tool, you’ll be giving your students a lot more than English writing skills. You’ll be giving them skills they can use in the globalized, digital world.
Have you ever used online tools for writing practice? If so, share your experience below!