E-tools to inspire greater academic writing autonomy among our EALs

young beautiful college student girl studying for university exam in stress asking for help under test pressure sitting on desk with book in youth education conceptHey now, TESL Ontarians! Have you ever wondered if your students have gone on to produce successful academic writing following their studies with you? This has been a burning question for me during and after English for academic purposes (EAP) courses / workshops I have delivered to university students over the past decade. As I mentioned in my last post, one of the more under-utilized strategies for promoting student success is the provision of resources
that can allow for students to take a more active role in their own learning. Inspired by work alongside L2 writing specialists and English language experts, I have some suggestions for useful electronic resources you may wish to share with your students in order to inspire greater academic writing autonomy and sustainability. In this post, I describe various e-resources that may be particularly effective in laying the groundwork for more sustainable academic writing outcomes after students leave the comfortable confines of your ESL/EAP classroom. While you will undoubtedly find these resources helpful in your teaching, you may even find them helpful for your own writing!  Here are several potentially useful resources that students (and instructors!) should get familiar with:

Broad academic writing support website: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/
This amazing website is worthy of its own blogpost. Inside you will find everything:

  • style guides that help students with research writing,
  • punctuation overviews (e.g. how to use a semi-colon),
  • tips on basic (s-v agreement) and more advanced (restrictive vs. non-restrictive relative clauses) grammatical elements often troubling for EAL students (as well as native speakers, by the way),
  • and lots more.

If there is only one electronic site you get your students familiar with during your course, this should be it. I highly suggest taking class time to navigate the different pages of this site together with your students in order to familiarize them with potential tools they can use when writing/revising.

Free academic writing corpus: https://lsa.umich.edu/eli/language-resources/micase-micusp.html
Exposing students to authentic examples of academic writing can be a helpful tool in increasing their awareness of particular sub-genres of academic writing (e.g. research article; book review; lab report) they may be expected to produce during their university studies. A useful way to utilize this corpus is to have students download 2-3 papers from a particular sub-genre and then identify the component parts. I suggest doing this together as a class, highlighting the effective language “chunks” (e.g. In this paper, I…) used by other university student writers. This is NOT a form of plagiarism, but rather an efficient and effective way of building an academic writing repertoire.

E-thesaurus: http://www.thesaurus.com/
E-dictionary: http://www.collinsdictionary.com/
E-translator: http://babelxl.com/

Encouraging students to make effective use of electronic dictionaries, thesauri, and translators is a no-brainer. The examples above are only a few of the many possibilities and I encourage teachers to do their own due diligence in identifying the ones they think best suit their learners. Again, I suggest taking class time to have students bookmark these particular tools so that they are readily available when they are writing their papers. In addition, teachers may want to consider investigating further the multiple functions (they get better with each version) of Microsoft Word (for PC or MAC) as writing / editing tools.


E-mindmapping / brainstorming tools: http://mindmapmaker.org/ http://popplet.com/

Youtube “how to” video for how to use outlining function in Microsoft Word: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sfu1AnJappg
As suggested in my previous post, dedicating class time to improving students’ writing processes can be an effective way to support sustainable writing outcomes. I have found that providing students with guidance on how to go about brainstorming and outlining ideas for their academic papers generally results in higher quality written products that more closely meet the expectations of the instructor (me, in this case). Working in class on brainstorming can allow the students to engage in multimodal representations of their ideas (e.g. mindmap) that can alleviate the dreaded “writer’s block”. Outlining in class can both increase students’ awareness of the structural components of a sub-genre as well as help guide more concise production of a “rough copy”.

Ultimately, students will enjoy instruction that provides them with these user friendly, pragmatic electronic tools that they may successfully employ during and after their academic programs. These tools will give your students greater self-confidence and help you sleep better knowing you have helped provide the conditions for their sustainable writing processes, practices and outcomes. Write well and prosper! As always, I look forward to your feedback, TESL Ontarians :).



Hey now! My name is James and I have been involved in teaching ELT/ESL/EAL/EFL/EAP (enough acronyms yet?) for the past 15 years. My teaching and teacher education experiences have taken me across the Americas (from Brazil to Mexico to various parts of Canada). I have a PhD and MA from OISE/University of Toronto and research/teaching experience in a wide variety of classroom contexts. Recently, while teaching graduate and undergraduate students at universities across southern Ontario, I have been experimenting with different modalities in delivering English for academic purposes and TESL theory & methodology courses/workshops. I am excited to share my experiences in educational research and pedagogy with the TESL Ontario faithful as we co-construct knowledge together.


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