Increasing Student Engagement

Is writing really becoming a “lost art,” as older generations would say? Their thinking is understandable when they read a text message that says, “u r my bff – lol. ttyl.” It’s like a foreign language to a grandparent who has not stayed “current” and yet who understands other text like POTUS, SCOTUS, EPA and IRS. The point is this: texting and posting language for informal settings does not mean that younger generations cannot write. Teachers still teach writing and students still write essays and papers. And they still work on English writing structures.

Teaching Writing is Challenging

In a digital world, teaching writing in traditional ways has become more challenging, but digital delivery can be far more exciting and fun. Indeed, there are even a number of online courses that teachers can take in order to learn how to use digital delivery in their classrooms. If teachers have access to tools and apps that will engage students in writing activities, writing does not have to be the drudgery that some students have always found it to be. Here then are some tools and apps that teachers themselves recommend for writers at various grade levels.

Tools for Elementary Kids

  • My Story Book Creator: Kids can create their own e-books, using text, photos, drawings, stickers, and more. They can then share their books online with friends and family. 
  • Kidspiration Maps: This is a mind-mapping app that will help kids organize information and thoughts before they begin to actually write a short essay or story. They can create Venn diagrams for comparison/contrast, story boards, webs, and more. Great pre-writing tool.
  • Grammaropolis“Schoolhouse Rock” was the previous generation’s TV tool for grammar. This app is definitely 21st century in its approach. Parts of speech are animated characters with names that provide clues to their functions in sentences. The “shady pronoun” is always trying to steal the noun’s place; the “motherly conjunction” just want everyone to “connect” and get along. Bet part? This app is free
  • Punctuation – End Marks: This is a police department themed app (e.g., Detective Question Mark) and includes puzzles of increasing difficulty. The drag and drop feature for punctuation and capitalization into sentences make this easy to use.

Middle School and High School

Reluctant writers are in every classroom, and many students just don’t see the point in learning how to write well anymore, given their primary methods of communication. Fortunately, the can be engaged, no matter what their current skill level is. Her are teacher-tested and recommended apps for teen writers.

  • Grammar App HDNot boring this app, as Yoda would say. Games, exercises and tutorials relate to common grammar issues, and the format is so much more engaging than a text or worksheets.
  • Flowboard: This is a multimedia approach to writing and publishing. Students create presentations that involve their own writing, of course, but then can add any type of media they wish. Pretty motivational.
  • A+ Writing Prompts: “Current” topics; intriguing questions and prompts. This gives teachers over 1 billion (yes, that’s “billion” with a “B”) writing prompts to use either for daily journaling or as essay assignments.
  • Mind Mapping Apps: there are so many free mind-mapping tools out there, and these are great pre-writing tools for students to use. and Text2Mindmap are just two of these that are free.
  • Editing ToolsGrammarly and Hemingway are two great editing tools that students can use to “clean up” and polish their writing before turning it in. For a reasonable one-time fee, your entire class can have access to these tools with username and password access.

Other Digital Outlets for Student Writers

In many English departments or high schools as a whole, blogs are becoming more and more common. With free WordPress and free or cheap plugins, high school English teachers can support and maintain a blog with student contributors. And these blogs can reach beyond just the high school community. Silver Creek High School in Indiana has a blog, titled Raw Ink, with about 1500 followers from all over the country. Being able to write posts and have those posts published on a platform that may get peer readers from all over the country is hugely motivating to students and will encourage writing at all levels.

And when students do write blog posts for publication, they can use the free tool to “get a bead” on the reading level of their posts – always a good idea.

Technology has given teachers of writing so many tools to use to engage and motivate students to write. English teachers know that good writers are developed through practice. The key is getting students to engage in that writing practice that will allow them to develop their skills. Any tool that can encourage such practice is a “gold mine.”