Friday, October 5, 2012

Tools for Writing and Proofreading

Of the different reasons students come to us for help here at The Yellin Center, writing remains one of the most common. Many of our students are able to come up with wonderful ideas but getting them onto paper can be challenging for a variety of reasons, causing great frustration to the students themselves, as well as their parents and teachers. In our work with struggling writers, we've come across several helpful programs to improve the quality of their written work. For those who have difficulty thinking of the right words to use during the drafting process, WriteOnline and wordQ are excellent options. During editing, students who have difficulty seeing errors in their own work might benefit from practicing with Daily Oral Language books. Both resources can be enormously helpful toward helping a student’s ideas sound as good on paper as they did in his/her head.

Helping Writers Find Words

Writers everywhere are familiar with the scenario: They know the perfect word to use in a sentence, they can practically hear it, practically see it, they know it starts with an e, but what is it?? For young students who are new to writing or anyone who faces writing or language challenges, this experience is more than an occasional annoyance. Stopping mid-sentence to check a thesaurus can interrupt the flow of writing and students may  lose track of what they were saying when they are forced to backtrack.

Luckily, there are several assistive technology options available to help writers find just the right word and WriteOnline and wordQ are two of the best. Both provide predictive text so that appropriate, correctly spelled words will be suggested to students as they write sentences. Both programs also read text aloud, making it easier for students to detect awkward or ungrammatical sentences. WordQ users are given the option to take the predictive text feature a step further, however, with the addition of speakQ. This feature recognizes and enters spoken words, making wordQ a great option for poor spellers or those who have difficulty with keyboards.

At first, programs like WriteOnline and wordQ may seem to be band-aids and not actual cures. With time, however, students will be exposed to a great many useful words in the context of their own writing, which should help make word retrieval more automatic and writing a less daunting process.

Building Proofreading Skills

Students are often encouraged to proofread their writing for mistakes, but without specific instruction and practice, this mandate can be an exercise in futility. The Daily Oral Language (D.O.L.) series provides students with opportunities to practice finding and correcting errors in written mechanics to help them be more careful, thoughtful editors of their own writing.

One D.O.L. book is available for each grade from first through twelfth, and there is an exercise for each day of the week. Students read up to a few sentences containing errors, use proofreading marks to identify them, then rewrite the corrected sentences to reinforce the lesson. Educators can support students who have had less practice by telling them how many errors to look for or giving clues about the nature of some of the errors (capitalization, punctuation, etc.). The books are particularly useful as an informal diagnostic tool for tutors or specialists beginning work with new students – asking them to correct a few carefully chosen D.O.L. exercises can reveal a lot about the skills that are intact and those that need to be reinforced.

D.O.L. books are available from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt publishers in bulk, but parents and tutors can find single copies on

A note about transfer: Critics of Daily Oral Language have pointed out that the exercises are not sufficient to serve as writing instruction, and they are right. The series is a great supplement to the writing lessons students receive in their language arts classes, but it should be noted that the books are not meant to take the place of instruction. Knowledgeable adults may need to guide students in transferring the skills they build with Daily Oral Language to the editing of their own writing.

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