Here’s another one of my “Best of…” lists. This time it’s focused on websites to support writing instruction/reinforcement for grades K-12.
You might also find these other writing-related “The Best…” lists useful:
The Best Posts On Writing Instruction
The Best Places Where Students Can Write Online
The Best Sites For Grammar Practice
Not “The Best,” But “A List” Of Mindmapping, Flow Chart Tools, & Graphic Organizers
The Best Resources For Researching & Writing Biographies
The Best Resources For Learning How To Write Response To Literature Essays
The Best Places Where Students Can Write For An “Authentic Audience”
The Best Places Where Students Can Create Online Learning/Teaching Objects For An “Authentic Audience”
The Best Places To Read & Write “Choose Your Own Adventure” Stories
The Best Sites To Learn About Advertising
The Best Websites For Developing Academic English Skills & Vocabulary
The Best Online Interactive Exercises For Writing That Are Not Related To Literary Analysis (includes Problem/Solution essay resources)
The Best Online Resources To Teach About Plagiarism
The Best Resources For Learning Research & Citation Skills
The Best Sites For Students To Create & Participate In Online Debates
The Best Online Resources For Helping Students Learn To Write Persuasive Essays
The Best Spelling Sites
The Best Sites For Gaining A Basic Understanding Of Adjectives
The “Best” Sites For Helping Students Write Autobiographical Incident Essays
The Best Sites To Learn “Feelings” Words
The Best Sites For ELL’s To Learn About Punctuation
The Best Resources To Help Students Write Research Essays
K-12 is a pretty wide-range, and there are some sites here that are obviously more geared towards either younger or older students. I used my usual criteria though, which is that they all need to be accessible to English Language Learners and to teachers who only know how to email and copy and paste a url address.
I’m feeling a little conflicted about making this list. I think writing is the least one of the four “domains” (speaking, listening, reading, writing) that can be explicitly helped by using the Internet (of course, reading good materials on the Web also is a big help towards developing writing skills).
I believe the best way computers can help students become better writers is by their just using wordprocessing. The immediate spelling and grammar corrections offered by these programs, plus the ability to cut, copy and paste, are great student tools. And you don’t need the Internet in order to use wordprocessing (though there are certainly accessibility benefits to using an online program). Of course, in order to really benefit from a program students also have to know how to type (I’ll leave typing websites for a future list).
Another reason I’m a bit conflicted is because I believe the best writing curriculum out there, by far, is the one offered by the WRITE Institute. It’s focused on English Language Learners, but we’ve certainly used their materials successfully with mainstream students as well. Their curriculum, however, is only available to schools who’s Districts have an official “partnership” with them. Technology is a minimal part of their program, but I’ve found the sites on this list good supplements.
(You can now purchase — for $20 each — the supplemental units the WRITE Institute creates and then reproduce them for a one-time classroom use. These supplemental units are not the full ones that we use (I’m assuming that those are still only available to partners), but they include the most important parts of them. I’m not sure if this is a recent development, or if they’ve always been available and I just didn’t know about it.I’d still encourage your district to become a partner with the Institute because of the additional units and training that comes along with it.However, if you’re not in that situation, I can honestly think of no better way to spend your money (except, perhaps, on buying my book on teaching ELL’s when it’s published in April :))
Here are what I think are The Best Websites For K-12 Writing Instruction/Reinforcement (I know that title is quite a mouthful!):
Number eleven is a new one called Protagonize. This is an unusual pick for me, because I won’t even be using it for a couple of months. Let me explain.
Protagonize is a great Web 2.0 application that allows users to write their own stories, and contribute to the stories of others, as a kind of “Choose Your Own Adventure,” like the Goosebumps books. Writers can easily develop different alternatives that readers then have to choose. You might want to read two posts I’ve recently made about the site.
I’ve ranked a site from the Abu Dhabi Men’s College as number ten on the list. It has great sample essays for a variety of genres, and a lot of additional materials. I don’t really have students go to the site, but I’ve been able to print out and use a lot of the materials.
Number nine is a site that’s made a number of my lists, but is usually not near the top because it costs money — Brainpop. For a few hundred dollars a year, a class can watch excellent animated movies about writing and many other topics, along with additional online activities. Plus, the movies are now closed-captioned, which is great for English Language Learners.
Number eight is Great Source. Their site has a number of very helpful resources for students. I’m particularly impressed with a number of accessible online Tutorials they have about different essays. This one on Persuasive Writing is an example.
Number seven is Scholastic’s Create A Tale. Students can….create a tale using step-by-step instructions including images.
The BBC’s Story Plant is ranked sixth. Here, too, students are guided to create a simple story. I particularly like this site because it offers audio support for the text you see on the screen.
Number five is no longer free, so I’ve removed it from this list.
Number four is Essay Punch. It’s the free online version of a fairly popular program that is also available for purchase. It offers an interactive step-by-step model for writing an essay. At the bottom of its webpage you can also find links to other versions, including Paragraph Punch, Business Letter Punch, etc.
BBC Skillwise has a great Writing site filled with interactive activities and is number three on my list. One of my favorites is The Virtual Traveller. In it, students can choose a place from around the world; listen to someone speaking in simple English about it; type notes when they’re listening; write a short summary; choose pictures; and then print it all out.
Finally, the number one website for writing instruction/reinforcement is…. the BBC Bitesize Revision for Writing. Admittedly, it’s geared towards a younger audience (and perfect for English Language Learners), but their multiple activities are just great and deserve to be in first place.
Kevin Jarrett has written about a new site from the Sesame Workshop called Pinky Dinky Doo. He gives a good overview of what it offers, so I’d encourage you to go directly to his post. I’d like to highlight one area of the site that I’m adding to this list. It’s called Your Story Box, and is basically a simple cloze (gap-fill) activity where users fill-in the blanks with images that are converted into words. Audio support is also provided to the text. It’s a great exercise for Beginning English Language Learners.
ESL Bee is a teacher-designed site to assist Intermediate and Advanced English Language Learners in writing academic essays. There’s a lot of material there. For me, though, the gold mine is in the examples of student essays (for example, these persuasive essays). It’s not easy to find good, short, accessible, and well-written examples of different types of academic essays that can be used with English Language Learners as models, but you’ll find a wealth of them here. The same site also has a number of good English practice quizzes.
I’m adding “Writing Help” from Time For Kids to this list. I particularly like the model essays that each section includes.
Holt has another collection of student essays.
Scholastic has a wide variety of student model essays. Look under Projects By Subject near the bottom right of the page.
Houghton Mifflin has a decent collection of student essays, though I don’t think they’re as good as the other sites I’ve mentioned.
A great source of material — not only for ELL’s but for mainstream students, as well — are free Writing Assessment Handbooks that can be downloaded at The California Writing Project website. It’s a great resources for all sorts of writing resources. I particularly like them for their examples of student writing.
Here’s a new Holt collection of interactive essays.
TIME for Kids has a collection of sample essays.
Here are sources of writing examples specifically aligned with the Common Core Standards:
Achieve The Core Common Core writing samples from classrooms around the country.
Ten Ideas That Get Kids Writing is from The National Writing Project.
“Writing with Purpose: Personal Narratives by Teenagers” is from What Kids Can Do. It offers some good writing models.
Writing bingo is a very creative lesson plan from Sandy Millin.
Skills Practice | Writing Effective Openings is an exceptional lesson plan at The New York Times Learning Network.
The British Council has a good series of interactive writing skills exercises.
— Allison Marchetti (@AllisonMarchett) February 6, 2014
The Online Writing Lab from Excelsior College has some great resources for English Language Learners.
The Moving Writers have created a great collection of mentor texts.
WISE EYES: Prompting for Meaningful Student Writing is from The National Writing Project.
— Jim Bentley (@Curiosity_Films) September 24, 2015
Student Winners From Our 2015 Review Contest is from The New York Times Learning Network. It showcases many winners of a contest where students had to write reviews of “works of culture that were new to them.” It’s a rich source of mentor texts.
Thoughtful Learning has a great collection of model texts in multiple genres and grade levels.
As with all these lists, they’re entirely subjective. I’m certainly open to hearing other feedback.
You can see the other “Best of…” lists here.
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