While this is a topic that gets covered on education blogs with some frequency, I haven't tackled it here in a while, and it is such a vital skill. Written and oral communications are the most commonly cited areas where higher ed and employers are hoping to see improvements for new applicants. Thanks to Christine Feher for the tips and tools. – KW
Writing is a sought-after skill that can help students in school, work, and many other aspects of their life. Not every student is going to be a strong writer off the bat, and in fact, even good writers will always have room for improvement. Luckily, there are several online tools, websites, and apps to help them get better, no matter what their skill level may be.
Here are 15 tips and resources to help your student push past writer’s block, find inspiration, edit their pages more concisely, and improve their writing.
1. Minimize Distractions with FocusWriter
Having total access to the Internet at all times isn’t always helpful. For times your student really needs to focus or meet a deadline, use FocusWriter. The program provides a distraction-free interface that removes the clutter of a computer screen. You can also enable live statistics and timers to set reachable goals for your student.
2. Find the Word You’re Thinking of with OneLook
OneLook functions as a reverse dictionary. Users can look up words based on their definitions or use the website as a thesaurus. Students can even narrow down results based on the number of letters or syllables, or even a phonetic rhyme.
3. Get Some Inspiration on Lists for Writers
If your student gets stuck in the brainstorm phase of writing, List for Writers might just be their savior. The app lists out different story concepts, like character traits or settings, to help spark writers’ creativity.
4. Embrace the Endlessness of the Internet
Since we are looking to online resources, it only makes sense to embrace the endless possibilities of the Internet. If you can tell your student has hit a wall and is struggling to push past writer’s block, let them take a break. Playing games online, chatting with friends, or reading a few blog posts can alleviate some stress and help them refocus.
5. Read More
The best writers are also avid readers. The more diverse their reading material, the more they’ll be exposed to different types of sentence structures, vocabulary, tones, techniques, and stylistic choices, which they can then begin to incorporate into their own writing as they develop their skills.
6. Organize Visually
Brainstorming and outlining doesn’t always have to be done within a writing app. Students who are more visual learners might find colorful desk accessories like Post-It notes or index cards helpful in formulating their thoughts. Have them write down each individual element to their story or essay on its own note; they can then rearrange the notes until they’re comfortable with the flow. They can even use different color notes to organize their ideas, for example, facts are written on blue notes while quotes or transitions are written on yellow. Of course, there are plenty of good online apps for this as well, such as MindMapper.
7. Creating a Writing Nook
Ask your student where they feel they write best. Maybe they like background noise or a comfy chair. Maybe they need as little distraction as possible. Work with them to create a writing nook that they can retreat to every time they need to put pen to paper (or text on screen).
8. Take Specific Online Classes
Many students who take advantage of the flexibility of online charter schools will attest to the benefits of personalizing their courses to their interests or needs. Your student doesn’t have to be enrolled in an online school to access the wealth of resources online classes provide. Coursera can help you find writing classes from accredited colleges, while Mediabistro offers its own writing courses to help your student improve.
9. Collaborate with Google Docs
Google Docs not only lets you access documents from virtually anywhere, but also allows you to share work and collaborate with others. This is a great tool for research projects or editing; anyone with the link and permission to edit can make changes or add comments in real time.
10. Catch Errors with Grammarly
Grammarly is a proofreading tool that detects grammatical errors, typos, and awkward sentences. You can download the program as a web extension, and it’ll correct anything written in a web browser (which means it works well with Google Docs).
11. Test Readability with Hemingway Editor
Depending on where your student is in his or her writing abilities, they may feel like the more complex their writing, the better. Enter, The Hemingway Editor. This website calculates readability—highlighting passive voice, complicated wording, and lackluster vocabulary—to help your student write more concisely and effectively.
12. Organize Notes & Thoughts with Evernote
Evernote is a valuable tool for creating and organizing notes and to-do lists. Your student can sort each note into a notebook and add tags to make their ideas easily searchable. As an added bonus, the Evernote Web Clipper extension allows them to save articles from across the web so they can quickly access them as they’re doing research or working on projects.
13. Explore Writing Themes with Hubspot
If your student is tasked with coming up with their own writing topic but at a loss for ideas, they can use Hubspot’s Blog Topic Generator, which produces a list of relevant titles (or topic ideas) in just a few seconds. They can write based off the Hubspot suggestions or use them as a jumping board to come up with their own.
14. Make Writing a Habit with Daily Page
Building a habit of writing in your student doesn’t have to be tedious for them. The website Daily Page sends them a fun and unique writing prompt every day. Since your student won’t be obligated to hit a word or page count, they can write freely and stretch their creative muscles on a daily basis.
15. Write Often
Ultimately, the exact tool or resource your student uses doesn’t matter much so long as they’re writing. The best way to help them improve their writing is to get them to write—then read back and edit their writing—as often as is reasonable. Remember that writing can come in the form of Tweets, emails, and even hand-written thank you notes. The more you encourage your child to write, they more comfortable they will be in the skill and the better they’ll get.