Write right: How English teachers can use edtech in their classrooms

Everyone can write but not everyone is a writer. Social media and messaging apps are everywhere — and so are the grammatical errors that go along with using them.

Srsly, amirite? lolz (Translation: “Seriously, am I right or what? Ha!”) But grammar is a dry topic that students rarely enjoy. That’s why I’ve put together shamelessly grabbed this list of edtech tools for secondary English teachers. It includes lots of free apps and websites that’ll help your students learn to write well and polish their work. Here are two of my favorites.

 

Hemingway App

One of the most popular web applications out there for checking work is the Hemingway App. It helps students make their writing bold and clear. (Think of it like spell check but for style.)

How does it work? Students copy their work and paste it into the site. Hemingway will highlight adverbs, use of passive voice, and phrases that have simpler alternatives. The app will also show students which sentences are hard or very hard to read.

English teachers can use the Hemingway app to teach students to write well.

 

Mousing over any highlighted section or word will show Hemingway’s advice for the writer.

English teachers can use the Hemingway app to teach students to write well.

English teachers can use the Hemingway app to teach students to write well.

English teachers can use the Hemingway app to teach students to write well.
One of Hemingway’s best tools is its readability grader. It’s an algorithm Hemingway uses to measure the education level needed to understand a piece of writing.

English teachers can use the Hemingway app to teach students to write well.

 

This is an important tool for student writers who are still trying to find their voice. It can be tempting for student writers to pack their pieces with jargon in an attempt to sound more knowledgeable. After all, it does seem more impressive to have a piece that scores at a 15th grade level (think junior year in college). But those pieces can feel tedious and confusing for most readers.

I used Hemingway to score this section of the blog. How’d I do? It scores at a sixth-grade reading level. It’s got only a handful of adverbs and no uses of passive voice or phrases with simpler alternatives. But I threw you some curveballs. Six of the sentences are hard to read and one is very hard to read.

You know. Just in case you were getting too comfy.

 

Expresso App

Expresso works much the same way as Hemingway but takes writing analysis a few steps further. When students paste their work into Expresso and click “Analyze Text,” the app will generate its review in a sidebar along the right side of the page. Here’s an example:

English teachers can use the Expresso app to teach students to write well.

 

In the text we used to generate the example above, almost 32% of the verbs are weak. But which ones? Clicking the blue “weak verbs” category will highlight those instances in the text. The page will also display a helpful tooltip so students understand why the app targeted those words.

English teachers can use the Expresso app to teach students to write well.

English teachers can use the Expresso app to teach students to write well.

 

Don’t blindly optimize

Edtech tools (which are supported by our very own Atlas—wink wink, nudge nudge) aren’t just for STEM classrooms. Using grammar properly and learning to write well doesn’t have to be a slog. Tools like Hemingway and Expresso can help your students unlock their freedom of expression and polish their work to a high shine.

But don’t think of them as magic bullets. While these apps correlate with good writing, they don’t cause it — just like umbrellas correlate with rain but don’t trigger it. Constructing short sentences out of common words will satisfy the algorithm and improve readability scores, but the text might be unintelligible as a result.

If you ask me, good writing will always be an art — not a science.

 

Finding edtech tools that’ll work for your students can be tough. We get it. If you’re an educator or parent looking to make a difference with technology, we’re with you. Tell us what you hope to achieve with your students and what you’d like to learn more about, and we’ll help you out.

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Kristen Johnson

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