4 Writing Tips for Students

4 Writing Tips to Help the Writing Process

My student cried when I showed her how to voice type in Google. Then, instead of 90 words in one class period, she typed 500. She edited it. She turned it in early. Tears of joy happen when the right tool is taught to the right student. Technology isn't flashy. The right technology makes lives better. Make writing well easier with these four writing tips.

[tweetthis]We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master. Ernest Hemingway about writing #amwriting[/tweetthis]

Teachers are busy. As I share in Reinventing Writing,  teachers need to do what teachers do best — give creative advice. Sadly, many teachers are glorified spelling and grammar checkers. Many students won't or don't use the technology tools. Stop the madness!

I require students to use Spellcheck and Grammar tools before turning in work. Here's what I teach.

4 Writing Tips for Students Tutorial Video

My 4 Favorite Student Writing Tips that Make Writing Easier

Writing Tip #1: Use Grammarly


Grammarly is awesome. I have the pro version that includes extensive grammar checking and plagiarism checking. So, I edit every blog post with Grammarly. My students signed up for Grammarly this week. As a result, here are the valuable lessons we learned.

How to Get the Basic Version of Grammarly Free (Read this First)

  1. Go to Grammarly using the Chrome web browser.
    Firefox and Internet Explorer take you in an endless loop. They do not seem to give you the option for the free account.
  2. You can also search “Free Grammarly” in a search engine to get to the right page.
    If you go to the page that has you paste in text, sometimes it will take you in the “sign up” loop. Make sure it talks about the free account on the page BEFORE you sign up.
  3. Make sure you are clicking on the button that says “Sign for Grammarly, It's free.”
    If you start signing up, and it doesn't say it's free, you'll have to use another email. I don't know how to get it to let you sign up for the free version once you start signing up the other way.
  4. When it asks, install the Grammarly Chrome add-in.

Now, Grammarly will check basic grammar. Grammarly will also tell you how many advanced issues there are. (You need the pro version to see them.)

Grammarly writing bar tip

The Grammarly status bar. Notice the percentage it says is copied from other sources!

When grading student work, I paste all papers into Grammarly and turn on the plagiarism checker. (See picture above.) Typically, I'll coach students before they turn their work in so they can see that they should rework it.

When you check your writing, it generates citations for works you quote. It makes generating MLA citations so much easier when I'm writing books. I couldn't live without Grammarly. The Grammarly Chrome plugin helps me write better email, blog posts and Facebook status updates.

[callout]Grammar Coaching Tip. Grammarly doesn't just correct your work; it teaches you WHY you made a mistake. I find that I'm removing bad habits no English teacher could eradicate. Grammarly is my English teacher. I can focus on content, not commas.[/callout]

Writing Tip #2: Use the Hemingway App


Writing Tip Hemingway and Grammarly Used Together

In the screenshot, you can see Hemingway's  five basic suggestions with color coding:

  • Hard to read sentences (Yellow)
  • Very hard to read sentences (Red)
  • Simpler alternatives (Purple)
  • Adverbs (Blue)
  • Passive voice (Green)

[callout]Hemingway Tip. Sometimes students who don't space after the period will have sentences turn red that shouldn't be. Once they fix their spacing, the red will go away.[/callout]

Because I have the Grammarly extension installed, it also checks grammar inside Hemingway.  (Shown by the advanced issues and critical issues box.)

[callout] Formatting Tip. Sometimes these tools will mess up formatting. For this reason, wait to format until after editing. Also, note that Grammarly mistakenly believes the word “Grammarly” is an adverb because it ends in a “ly.” No tool is perfect! ;-) You still have to use the software between your ears.[/callout]

As I show in the tutorial movie above, I like to paste into Hemingway. Improve sentences, then go into Grammarly. Teach students to get rid of the colors. Run on sentences jump off the page. Yahoo!

Some students want to leave a sentence as yellow or red. Have them read the sentence to a friend. See if their friend understands it. If not, simplify.

[callout]Reading Level Tip.There are times, especially in higher education, when you choose to write at a higher grade level. But I'll tell you a secret: blog posts with a lower reading level perform better. My goal is below sixth grade. You can still use big words! Just simplify.[/callout]

Writing Tip #3 Use Pro Writing Aid


Writing Tip use pro writing aid

As seen in the screenshot, Pro Writing Aid has many tools and checks. It is a must-use for those doctoral dissertations or books. I run my most important works through both Pro Writing Aid and Grammarly.

It is easy to sign up for the free account on Pro Writing Aid. Pro Writing Aid is perhaps the most robust, free grammar checking tool available. It can be complex, so take the time to teach your students about each aspect.

My favorite tools here are the sticky sentences review and transitions report.

  • Remove Sticky Sentences for Online Writing. Sticky sentences hurt readability. Sticky sentences have a high number of commonly used words. (You can see these “sticky words” in the purple highlighting below.) Rework these sentences. The more you use Pro Writing Aid, the better you get at avoiding sticky sentences.
Writing Tip Remove Sticky Sentences

While sticky sentences may not bother a writing teacher, they are death to a blog post or online writing. Rewrite sticky sentences for improved readability.

  • Add Transitions. I have a list of transition words pinned to my bulletin board. With them in front of me, I can better add them to my writing. The target, according to Pro Writing Aid, is to have transition words on 25% of your sentences. I struggle to get that high, but there is no doubt, that when I add transitions, my writing is easier to read.
Writing Tip: Add Transitions to Your Writing

Pro Writing Aid helps you add transitions to your writing.

Pro Writing Aid has so many features; this tool can be overwhelming to beginners! (See my bonus tip below.)

[callout] Try the Pro Version Free. You can tweet about the service and earn some free weeks of the pro version if you want to try it out. The Pro Version makes it easier to edit the document live as you're working on the document. [/callout]

Writing Tip #4: Use Voice Typing to Draft Your Paper


The Macbook Pro and Mac Air running the newer operating systems have a robust dictation feature. But now, Google Docs has Voice typing (as I demonstrate above.) Just about any computer with a microphone running Google Chrome can use this feature.

Tips for Voice Typing in Google Docs

  • Not surprisingly, you need to use the Chrome browser.
  • I had to turn on Rapid Release in Google Apps for Education before my students had access.
  • Use a headset mic and teach students to talk quietly. Just a few can do this at once, or you end up with chaos. If your mic cancels out background noise, that helps.
  • You can't backspace (that I've found). Teach students about drafting and just encourage them to get it on the page.
  • Dictating from another source is STILL PLAGIARISM. (I'm not sure why that is hard to understand, but it is. Writing teachers will smile at this one.)
  • Collaborative writing is awesome, as I discuss in Reinventing Writing, but when a student is voice typing, it is best not to have other students in the document. Trust me on this one.

[callout]Voice Typing and Kids with Learning Differences. For students who struggle with written expression, voice typing is a must use. It will be interesting to see if the testing done on many LD students starts more deeply testing verbal expression versus written expression. The benefit of testing in this way means that we could find students who will benefit from voice typing most of their work. [/callout]

Offline Writing Tips

Many of these tools are available offline. If you have poor Internet access or like to write offline, improve your editing.

  • Hemingway has an offline app for the Mac and PC. (I use this when I write my books in Scrivener. I often write and block the Internet so to focus.)
  • Grammarly and Pro Writing Aid both have a plug-in for Microsoft Word. (Grammarly's plug in only works on the PC. Pro Writing Aid works on both.)
  • You can dictate using a Mac  and Windows 10 is supposed to have many voice features. (I haven't played with them yet, but some people say Cortana is pretty cool in Windows 10.)

Bonus Writing Tip for Beginners

My middle schoolers aren't ready for all of the tools I've shared. I just teach them the spelling and grammar check in Microsoft Word. Then, I take them into Grammarly. Here's a quick video that I use to get students used to spelling and grammar check.

ESSENTIAL TIP FOR TEACHERS: Require Spelling and Grammar Check Every Time

Spelling and Grammar check do you NO GOOD if you don't USE THEM. Use them. These tools are here. They are available. I require their use. I won't even grade papers if it has not been checked. I am not a human spell check. I fatigue over time and miss things. I'll let the computer do that… my student's computer.

[callout]Special Needs. Spell check, grammar check, and voice typing are saving technologies for students with special needs. We should expect and teach how to use these valuable tools. They can change the lives of kids! Require students to use them! [/callout]

Writing has been reinvented. We must reinvent some of our teaching practices as well.

We haven't even delved into collaborative editing, writing, and collaborative prewriting, but I covered that in my book. Please share your writing tips and tools in the comments.

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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Cheska October 12, 2015 - 3:13 pm

Please note that when you download the free version of Grammarly, it does not include the plagiarism tool! That is an advanced tool which you can get by upgrading to the paid premium account.

Vicki Davis October 12, 2015 - 5:03 pm

That is correct Cheska. It does not include plagiarism checker in free version. I will look back and make sure that is clear.

Linda J. Brooks April 19, 2016 - 11:53 am

Thanks for the useful information, Vicky. These tools is very good. I also use Voice Typing and The Hemingway App. It’s fascinating that you can easily check your writings, and have the opportunity to correct all mistakes.
About “Grammarly” it is good for checking grammar not plagiarism.

I found a great article about all good plagiarism checkers. All of them are for educators. http://www.teacherswithapps.com/teaching-with-technologies-a-list-of-the-best-plagiarism-checkers-for-educators/
I’ve tried them all, but the best for me is Unplag. It new and not so popular, but very fast and no so expensive as others.
I’ll hope you find my comment useful)

Vicki Davis April 23, 2016 - 9:43 am

Grammarly Pro does check plagiarism but you have to purchase the pro version and turn on plagiarism checking. Would love to know how you’ve found it to not work, because I’ve found it to be spot on. Will look at unplag, haven’t heard of it. Thanks for commenting.

Amy Weaver June 28, 2020 - 9:05 am

Hi Vicki,

I really enjoyed reading your post. I like how you discussed how students could use voice typing to draft their paper. I found that during the current pandemic and teaching third graders online, it has been very difficult for them to type their responses on different platforms such as Google Docs or Google Forms.

I also saw that you stated at the bottom of the article that you hadn’t even delved into collaborative editing, writing, and collaborative prewriting. You had mentioned that it was in your book, but I was curious if you had these tips on your twitter or on your blog?

Vicki Davis July 1, 2020 - 8:31 pm

These tips are scattered throughout my blog, but, of course, my book would go into much more detail. There’s not one place I can point to on my blog or twitter as I spent over a year writing the book and putting all of the writing items into it.


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Vicki Davis writes The Cool Cat Teacher Blog for classroom teachers everywhere