Online Resources for Student Writers

(Dec. 10, 2009 Writing Instructors' Workshop)

For English Language Learners | Essay-Writing Process | Web 2.0 Resources

E-Resources for English Language Learners (ELL)

by Amy Franklin Whittaker, Engineering Communication Program and New College Writing Centre

  1. Writing at The University of Toronto: This site provides information on the writing centres across the three U of T campuses and information pertaining to writing and communication courses offered through the various departments. The “advice” link in the menu is especially helpful to students as it provides resources on organization, rhetoric, genres, grammar and vocabulary.
  2. English Language Development (ELD): University of Toronto, Scarborough: English Language Learners (ELL) will find this site very useful. There are a number of helpful resources as well as interactive activities and tests for students to help them practice their English. Furthermore, students can learn of the many workshops offered on campus and students can make appointments with instructors to work with writing or oral presentation skills.
  3. Khoo, E. (2007) Beating the odds: Success stories of students overcoming English language challenges. (Booklet). University of Toronto Scarborough, The Writing Centre, Teaching and Learning Services. Elaine Khoo provides a number of helpful and motivational stories to help ELL students.
  4. Engineering Communication Program (ECP): Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering, University of Toronto: Here, students will find advice on how to prepare specific types of documents (proposals, case studies, memos, etc), components for documents (executive summaries, literature reviews, methodologies), how to provide accurate documentation (referencing, paraphrasing, citation) and there is advice on oral communication and strategies to help students with the writing process. Although the primary audience for the site is engineering students, students in other disciplines, specifically science and business, may find some of this material useful.
  5. The Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL): Click on the site map and notice that there are a few hundred resources to explore. For the interactive learners, the OWL provides a number of useful exercises to help learners engage with the material: One exercise that I find useful for teaching students how to cut down on “wordiness” in their writing is this exercise on “The Paramedic Method”:
  6. Michigan State University – Common Prefixes, Suffixes and Root Words: Students may come across words that are new or words that are familiar but used in ways that students haven’t encountered. This site is helpful as it alerts students to the meanings of word roots, prefixes and suffixes.
  7. Modes of Rhetoric – Kerissa Heffernan, Brown University The pdf describes and explains various modes of rhetoric in ways that are helpful for both reading and writing. It explains how one or another mode may dominate, or how the author may be using several modes alternately or simultaneously. Perceiving these structures also gives students frameworks within which to organize their own writing. The pdf provides solid examples for a general academic audience.
  8. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill – writing centre – FALLACIES Here is a good online resource that teaches students to identify fallacies in their own arguments as well as those they read and hear. The site first identifies the elements of “good/logical” arguments and then identifies common fallacies. The identification of fallacies will further deepen students’ reading skills as they attempt to identify any logical inconsistencies in an author’s claim. They may wish to consider whether the author’s evidence or explanatory statements always support the claims she’s making. Students can be encouraged to look for the classic fallacies in their readings as part of formulating their own critical response to an author’s argument.
  9. Libraries at the University of Toronto – Encyclopedias, Dictionaries, Directories, Handbooks ELL students and non-ELL students often find it easier to first engage with some “quick information” before diving into a topic. Unfortunately, the first place they tend to go is Wikipedia. It is important to encourage students to seek out quality encyclopedias that can still provide “easier to read” material and a general background on the subject. Many ELL students really need this type of previewing before reading something more complex on the same topic.

Essay-Writing Process

by Allyson Skene, UTSC and Arts & Science WIT initiative

  1. Assignment Calculator: Based on the assignment calculator developed by the University of Minnesota Library, the UTSC calculator adds a unique feature: choice of assignment type. This allows for a little more specificity when outlining the steps involved and helps to direct students to appropriate resources for that assignment type.
  2. Note-taking Worksheet: This worksheet is valuable for helping students critically summarize their reading, while developing their authorial voice.
  3. Constructing a Logical Argument: This handout provides an introduction to the different shapes an argument can take, and helps students better understand how to structure their arguments effectively.
  4. Writing a Strong Thesis: This handout helps to correct some of the more common myths that students hold about writing a thesis statement and provides clear criteria to help them judge whether their statement is strong. The table is especially helpful, as the examples illustrate each criterion.
  5. Citation Guide: This site provides an introduction to citation styles most commonly seen at U of T Scarborough. The most distinctive feature of this guide is the attention to in-text citation in the PDFs, in which the most common questions students have about in-text citation are answered. Also useful are the direct links to the online manuals for APA and Chicago (available only to the U of T community).
  6. You Quote It, You Note It! Produced by the Vaughan Memorial Library at Acadia University, this tutorial is a fun way for students to learn some of the basics about plagiarism, citation, summary, and paraphrase. Covers only APA and MLA.
  7. VisuWords: Visuwords is an open source online graphical dictionary and thesaurus (based on WordNet) that is extremely valuable for ELL students who are concerned about word choice or any students seeking synonyms, antonyms, or alternate forms of words. It can also be used quite effectively for learning more about how concepts relate to each other. (Note, however, that although this dictionary is fairly academic, more technical or discipline-specific terminology is often not included.)
  8. WordNet: This open source online dictionary and thesaurus from Princeton is not particularly user-friendly, and so may not be ideal for a tutoring situation. Nonetheless, it is still a fascinating project.
  9. Guide to Grammar and Writing: This site is especially valuable for the online quizzes where students can practice correcting grammatical errors and improve their vocabulary. Students should be warned, though, that in some cases, e.g. the quiz on articles, more than one answer might be correct. (Produced by the Capital Community College Foundation).

Using Web 2.0

by Melanie Stevenson, Innis College

  1. Cmaps at (available through Start Menu on UC lab computers). Useful tool for visual learners trying to make sense of complex ideas or planning a writing assignment. Basic mind maps can be done quickly and easily on paper. However, the software version stays easy to read, can handle more complex diagrams, makes revision easier, and allows maps to be shared, edited, linked to related maps, & added to by others online. Extra useful for team projects, or so I've heard.
  2. Delicious bookmarking site at A mobile, easily shared, more searchable alternative to saving bookmarks on a single computer. Can be useful during appointments when helping a student hunt for several research resources for a paper. While it's possible to write down a few urls, print a couple of pages, or add a few RefWorks entries without resorting to something like Delicious, these methods become cumbersome if you find more than a few sources. Social bookmarking sites like Delicious can help. Open Delicious and create a specialized tag (label) for the student; as you surf, quickly tag any useful web pages you find together during an appointment; you may also find related resources that others have evaluated and tagged on Delicious; after the appointment, the student can easily look up all the links on any computer.
  3. MIT's opencourseware site at OERs or Open educational resources are being developed at a number of universities. MIT is one of the leaders in this. On this site students and instructors can access MIT writing course materials for free. Students can use the courses for self-study; instructors can find useful resources and writing samples. Readings, rubrics, checklists, tips, web-resource-links, annotated student writing samples, etc. The quality of offerings does vary a bit, but you can find some good material here. Check out the numerous writing courses under the "Writing and Humanistic" label. OERs do raise IP and other ethical issues, but that is a debate for another meeting.
  4. Grammar Girl podcast at Concise, non-intimidating podcasts by a professional writer/editor on a range of grammar & usage issues. Offers an option for busy students who want to improve their grammar but won't get around to checking a grammar manual. They can listen to Grammar Girl while commuting, etc.
  5. I (and I hope others) will be posting additional resources on our writing instructors network at (sign up first at

Created 10 December 2009 by Margaret Procter. Please send comments and further suggestions to