Pre-Writing and Brainstorming
From Pre-Writing to Polishing: Best Practices for
Writing with Word Processors
Beyond the Essay: Using Word Processors to Devise New
Writing Collaboratively with Wikis
Computers have the potential to make our students much better writers. For sketching
out ideas quickly, the pencil may still have an edge, but for crafting carefully refined
prose, computers bring a wide array of advantages.
First, for some students, the graphomotor elements of writing—all those fine motor
skills needed to produce legible letters—suck up significant portions of brainpower.
Pushing buttons lets kids who struggle with forming letters focus on crafting writing.
Editing is also much easier on a computer. For instance, when many students write
paragraphs, their best thought often can be found at the end of a paragraph (after they
have thought through their ideas in writing), when it probably ought to be at the beginning. Moving that sentence is a difficult change to make with pen and paper, but it’s a
breeze with a word processor’s cut and paste function. With spelling- and grammarchecking tools, students can get instant feedback on their mechanics, and the ease of
sending documents back and forth electronically makes editing and peer editing more
Moreover, software programs like Microsoft Word offer an array of powerful writing tools—some you may not even be aware of—that can help students strengthen their
writing. Spend a few minutes with us in this chapter exploring Word’s Tools, and other
software programs, and you will be better equipped to help students write stronger essays and avoid many common writing errors.
Before delving into the writing itself, it’s worth spending some time on expectations for
how student writing should look. Save yourself some time and eyestrain by requiring
a standard formatting for all of the work in your class. If you don’t enforce formatting
expectations in your classes, your corner cutters will be swelling their margins and line
spacing and your nerdlings will cram more words than you ever thought possible in a
five page paper. For instance, require your students to submit everything using the
Font: Times New Roman (or choose another serif font—serifs are the little straight
lines that embellish some fonts—they enable you read faster, which makes a difference
when you have 75 papers to grade)
Size: 12 point
Margins: Top and bottom: 1", left and right 1.25"
Font Color: Black
For the first few months of class, remind students of these requirements and they will
soon become automatic.
Here’s a trick if you think a student is trying to stretch a short paper by altering the
spacing, margins, or font size: just take a paper that you know is correctly formatted
and lay it over the suspect paper. Hold them up to a light, and if they don’t line up, then
you’ve got someone trying to pull a fast one on you. Better yet, demonstrate this trick in
class (those big fluorescent lights are perfect) with the first set of papers, and you won’t
get any more sneaky business from your students.
Pre-Writing and Brainstorming
Inspiration and FreeMind
We first introduced Inspiration and FreeMind in Chapter 3, “Note Taking and
Organization,” as tools for helping students take graphical, visual notes. In this section,
we’ll focus on using these two pieces of software as writing tools.
Inspiration and FreeMind are concept-mapping tools that let students express their
ideas in a visual, non-linear medium, which is often just what students need to generate ideas for writing assignments. The mind maps created by these tools can be easily
moved, changed, and reconfigured, and Inspiration comes with templates to help students start with some structure to their thinking.
While these are exciting tools, as with every piece of technology, it’s worth testing
these tools against the pencil test: are they better than a pencil? There are some limitations to these tools, especially in that large concept maps can be big files, difficult to
email or share, and difficult to print. In these respects, a pencil and a white sheet of
paper might be best. That said, many new tools found on the Internet make collaborative concept-mapping simple and easy to do.
Pre-Writing and Brainstorming 169
Web site: http://www.inspiration.com/
Developer: Inspiration Software
Cost: $70 for an individual license, discount for groups
Inspiration is a program designed to help students and teachers make concept
maps and graphic organizers. The interface is intuitive, and the software offers
an extensive array of features for customizing mind maps and outlines. Many
educators around the United States use Inspiration, and so plenty of lesson plans
and templates can be found on the Web.
Inspiration is a concept-mapping tool that lets students graphically arrange ideas.
Ideas are put into bubbles or other symbols, and then the bubbles are linked with
arrows. Everything can be moved around and rearranged with simple mouse clicks,
so students can generate ideas quickly and then spend more time methodically organizing them. See Chapter 3, “Note Taking and Organization,” for an introductory
Brainstorming with Inspiration
For an unstructured approach to brainstorming, students can generate ideas in bubbles
and then move those bubbles around into a more orderly format. For instance, to create
a standard, introductory five-paragraph essay, students could be asked to identity their
three main points from a cloud of ideas, and then figure out which details are most
closely associated with each of the three points.
Once students have begun to draw out their ideas, they may be ready to delve into the
writing process. If they need more help creating structure from their mind maps, you
may want to encourage them to use Inspiration’s outline feature.
Tech Specs: Inspiration Brainstorms
Set-Up Time: Give yourself 30 minutes to experiment with the basic features
and interface before using it in class.
Keep-Up Time: None.
In-Class Time: Students can create a basic brainstorming mind map in 15–20
minutes, but you could also spend several periods planning and outlining a
Tech Savvy: Low to medium. Inspiration has a clean, intuitive interface,
but it also has many options that will probably be unfamiliar to many
This language arts template helps students organize the basics elements of a persuasive essay.
Source: ©2007 Inspiration Software®, Inc. Diagram created in Inspiration® by Inspiration Software®,
Inc. Used with permission.
Inspiration’s Outline View
Inspiration allows you to convert your concept map into an outline just by switching the view
to Outline Mode, which is done with the Outline button in the top left of the toolbar. This
will automatically put your map into outline form, which is one step toward writing an essay from your concept map. It’s a neat trick, but the concept maps that students generate do
not always lend themselves to being easily transformed into an outline. Fortunately, you can
move concepts up, down, left, and right in the Outline Mode as well.
The Topic and Subtopic buttons, found on the toolbar, let you add new concepts while
in Outline Mode, and the Left and Right buttons let you reorder ideas. You can also click
and drag concepts up and down on your outline. If you switch back to the diagram mode
by clicking the Diagram button in the top left of the toolbar, all of these changes will be
reflected in your original concept map.
Once satisfied, students can then print their outlines (FilePrint) or export them
by selecting FileExport and then choose a format in which they wish to export the
WEBSITE: Watch our video tutorial on brainstorming with Inspiration:
Writing with Inspiration Templates
Inspiration also includes numerous templates for different types of writing. In these
templates, students are presented with pre-organized models for arranging information,
and their job is to insert the specific details. These templates can easily be converted
into an outline or exported into a word processor to get students started with their
writing. Inspiration gives users many templates to begin with, and many more can be
found online with a simple Google search.
Pre-Writing and Brainstorming 171
Inspiration 7.0 offers fourteen templates for English and Language Arts classrooms
and ten templates for Social Studies classrooms. To access these templates, select File
from the Menu bar, click Open Template, and select the Language Arts folder. If you
are asking students to write a “compare and contrast” essay, then make sure to examine the “Comparative Analysis” template. Use this template to help students compare
ideas and themes in a book or piece of literature and hone their comparative analysis
skills. If you would like students to focus on historical cause and effect, Inspiration
offers a “Cause and Effect” template that can help demonstrate the causes and effects
of war, economic trends, political movements, and more. If you wish to help stimulate debate, or just help students see two side of an issue, the “Pro and Con” template
prompts students to enter arguments on both sides of a debate and then attempt to
resolve the differences.
Tech Specs: Writing with Inspiration Templates
Set-Up Time: It may take you a few minutes to find the right template, but
once you have found it, the prep work is done for you.
Keep-Up Time: None needed, though you can search for and find new
templates and ideas on the Web.
In-Class Time: With the structures provided by these templates, 20–50 minutes
is usually sufficient for students to generate their ideas within the template.
Tech Savvy: Low. Filling in the templates is quite simple, and basic
modifications are easy as well.
PENCIL: Though you lose valuable flexibility, printing out the Inspiration
templates and having students fill them out by hand could work in a pinch.
WEBSITE: Go to http://www.edtechteacher.org/chapter7.html to get more
ideas on using Inspiration in the classroom.
FreeMind: A Free Alternative to Inspiration
Web site: http://freemind.sourceforge.net/wiki/index.php/Main_Page
Developer: As an open-source project, FreeMind has a team of volunteer
FreeMind is a simple, elegant concept-mapping software that is distributed
for free. It perhaps lacks the rich functionality of commercial products, but its
interface is simple, clean, and intuitive, and the price can’t be beat.
Like OpenOffice’s Impress to Microsoft’s PowerPoint, FreeMind is a free, open-source
alternative to Inspiration. It has far fewer features, but it also has much smaller files and
you can put it on unlimited computers at no cost. A basic introduction to FreeMind can
be found in Chapter 3, “Note Taking and Organization,” but here are a few ideas on using
FreeMind to help students prepare to write.
FreeMind Five-Paragraph Essay Templates
Tech Specs: Using FreeMind Templates
Set-Up Time: It should take you only 5 minutes to download the templates
from our Web site, http://www.edtechteacher.org/freemind.html, and you could
design your own in 20–30 minutes.
Keep-Up Time: Just the time it takes you to email templates.
In-Class Time: Depending on the complexity of the essay, 20 minutes to
Tech Savvy: Medium. FreeMind isn’t particularly difficult, but for many it will
While FreeMind does not come with preloaded templates like Inspiration, we have some
templates available free at our Web site. In these templates for an introductory, fiveparagraph essay, students can replace the generic nodes we have created with ideas for
their own essays. If having the whole template open at once is unwieldy, students can
collapse everything except the part they are working on.
Once students begin the composing process, they can copy and paste any of the information in their FreeMind nodes to any word processor as they write their essays.
FreeMind maps are somewhat more visual than a regular outline, and somewhat
more structured that an
Inspiration brainstorm map.
Perhaps they are best oriented toward students who
need some hand-holding
but struggle with the rigidity of a typical outline.
FreeMind files are very
small, so they can be easily emailed back and forth,
and since the software is
free, students might be able
to work on their outlines
for homework as well.
The FreeMind essay templates
are easy to use and can help
guide students through the
From Pre-Writing to Polishing 173
WEBSITE: The template on page 172 is available online: http://www.
From Pre-Writing to Polishing: Best Practices for
Writing with Word Processors
Word processors are some of the most common software programs used in schools, and with
every new generation of software, developers are including more tools to help students write.
At this point, word processors can help students with every phase of writing, from prewriting
to drafting to revising to polishing to responding to instructor comments.
The two word processors most commonly found in schools are Microsoft Word and
Apple’s Appleworks. For schools where budgets are tight, faculty and technology staff
should look seriously at the benefits of OpenOffice.org’s Writer, which is an open-source,
free writing application with almost all of the functionality of Word and Appleworks.
In this chapter, most of our examples will draw on Microsoft Word, both because it
has the most features to help writers develop and because it is the most common wordprocessing application in schools.
Web site: http://www.apple.com/appleworks/
Cost: $79 from the online Apple store
AppleWorks is a fine word processor, but it also allows you to create spreadsheets,
chart and graphs, and illustrations. Unfortunately Apple is no longer working on
improving the product.
Web site: http://www.openoffice.org/product/writer.html
Writer is the free alterative to Word created by the OpenOffice volunteer team. It
doesn’t have every feature that Word or AppleWorks does, but it also doesn’t cost
a penny. Writer can open and read Microsoft Word documents, so if students are
using Word in schools, they can use Writer at home.
Web site: http://office.microsoft.com/word
Cost: Comes pre-installed on many computers; otherwise, the Home and Student
Edition of Microsoft Office is around $150.
Microsoft Word is the giant of the word-processing world. We wrote this book,
for instance, using Word.
Pre-writing with Word Processors
Tech Specs: Pre-Writing with Word Processors
Set-Up Time: Give yourself 15 minutes to practice using the outline features
of your word processor.
Keep-Up Time: None.
In-Class Time: 20 minutes to several periods to complete the outline,
depending on the complexity of the topic.
Tech Savvy: Low. Many of your students will already be familiar with these
Microsoft Word, Apple’s AppleWorks, and OpenOffice Writer all have formatting options that allow students to create outlines. One advantage of creating outlines in a word
processor, rather than on paper, is that students can use sections of what they have created in their writing without having to retype anything.
To begin, click Format Bullets and Numbering and look at your options (these instructions are the same for Word, AppleWorks, and Writer). Choose the Outline tab from
the top, and then choose the outline style that you would like to use.
Below are some tips for creating an outline:
• Type your first topic and then hit Enter. The next line will automatically be formatted
as a topic at the same level.
• To indent the topic to the right and make it a sub-topic, hit the Tab key. You can also
right-click (control-click on an Apple) and choose to move things up or down one
• At any time you can put the cursor just to the right of the initial letter or number
and hit Tab to indent the line. If you hit Delete right after hitting Tab, you can also
decrease the indent and move the line to the left.
Word and Writer also have toolbars for modifying outlines. Word’s can be found
by clicking on View Toolbars Outlining, Writer’s by clicking View Toolbars
Bullets and Numbering.
Once students have finished the outline, they can use it as a skeleton for their essays.
They should preserve the original essay in one of two ways:
1. Copy the entire outline, and then paste a second copy below the first. Start writing
the essay “inside” the second outline by deleting the formatting and expanding
words and phrases into complete sentences.
2. Or, click File Save As to create a new document with your outline in it. Give
the file a new name and start modifying the outline, secure in the knowledge that
your original outline is preserved in another file.
Even when students are practicing timed writing at computers for essay tests, encourage your students to spend a few minutes planning and outlining their writing before
they dive into the meat of their essay.
From Pre-Writing to Polishing 175
Improving Writing Before Typing a Single Word:
Setting Word’s Grammar Preferences
Tech Specs: Modifying Word’s Grammar Preferences
Set-Up Time: It will take you 20 minutes to an hour to familiarize yourself
with the grammar preferences and consider which will be most helpful for
Keep-Up Time: Several times a year, it’s worth taking some class time to help
students update their preferences.
In-Class Time: It will take 15–20 minutes to introduce students to these
options and help them customize their preferences.
Tech Savvy: Medium. Most of your students won’t be familiar with these
It’s fairly simple to edit Microsoft Word’s preferences to check documents for a whole series of grammatical, spelling, and other types of writing errors. If you are working on a PC,
edit preferences by going to Tools in the Menu bar and selecting Options. If you are using
Word 2001 or 2004 on a Mac, click on Word in the Menu bar and select Preferences.
You’ll notice that there are many categories that you can customize to suit your writing requirements. For instance, under the Spelling and Grammar tab you can opt to check spelling
as you type and have Microsoft Word suggest corrections. Mind you, the more interesting
and varied options are found in the Grammar section of the Spelling and Grammar tab.
The grammar-checking tools
are much more helpful when
students are able to take
control of the specific options.
Source: Microsoft product
screen shot reprinted with
permission from Microsoft
To take full advantage of Microsoft Word’s grammar-checking abilities, make sure
the following boxes are selected: Check grammar as you type, Check grammar with
spelling, and Show readability statistics. Word’s readability statistics provide the approximate grade level of the writing and the relative ease with which it can be read.
Next to the Show readability statistics option is a Settings button. Click on it. Choose
Grammar & Style (Formal in Word for Mac) and you’ll notice that you can check a document
not only for capitalization, punctuation, and spelling errors, but also for a whole series of writing conventions. Scroll down the list and you’ll see that Microsoft Word can check documents
for clichés, subject-verb agreement, colloquialisms, contractions, unclear phrasing, wordiness,
and much more. Moreover, you can help students learn to place punctuation inside quotation
marks (as per the American system) and commas before the last item in a list. After making
your choices, click OK. You may also have to click a Recheck this document button.
You might encourage students who are less-developed writers to select Grammar only
(Casual in Word for Mac), or perhaps suggest they choose only one or two issues for Word
to look for. Grammar highlights grammar issues only, and not stylistic conventions, making
it more appropriate for less-advanced writers. In any event, when students run a spelling and
grammar check and are confronted by dozens of potential problems, it can be overwhelming for them, and they may choose to ignore everything. If you instruct students to address
a few issues at a time, it can be a more precise and less-intimidating tool and stand a better
chance of helping them learn from their mistakes. As students develop as writers and learn
to identify and address certain issues, you can encourage them to set Word to check for
more grammar conventions. You can also use this feature to individualize your instruction,
so different students can be working on different writing conventions at the same time.
Once you have set these options, the next time you check the document with the
Spelling and Grammar tool (under the Tools option in the Menu bar), the document will
be much more thoroughly examined.
WEBSITE: Here are three excellent, interactive Web sites that help with grammar
and writing conventions:
1. Online Writing Lab (OWL) at Purdue University contains hypertext
workshops and subject tutorials on writing various types of papers, as well as teacher
resources, huge collections of links, PowerPoint presentations about writing, and
Web pages that cover all aspects of writing. The Purdue OWL also contains a list of
handouts organized by category and a list of interactive practice exercises. Sign up for
the free Writing Lab Newsletter for articles and tips: http://owl.english.purdue.edu/.
2. Guide to Grammar & Writing is an impressive interactive guide divided into
six major categories: Word & Sentence Level; Paragraph Level; Essay & Research
Paper Level; Ask Grammar, Quizzes, and Search Devices; Peripheral Devices; and
GrammarPoll. There are more than 150 computer-graded quizzes to test knowledge
of grammar: http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/.
3. Rules for Writers: Grammar Exercise is from the student companion
Web site for Rules for Writers, fifth edition, by Diane Hacker. It features interactive
grammar exercises that correspond to instruction in the book. Hacker is also the
author of A Pocket Style Manual, and taught English for more than thirty years
at Prince George’s Community College in Maryland: http://www.dianahacker.com/
From Pre-Writing to Polishing 177
When the review is complete, the student will see a series of “Readability Statistics” that
indicate the grade level of the writing and the ease with which the essay is read. That information should appear in a pop-up box after you’ve completed a spelling and grammar check
of the document. The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level score is based on U.S. grade levels; an
8.0 means that the document contains eighth-grade-level writing. The Flesch Reading Ease
is rated on a 100-point score; a high score indicates a document that is easier to understand.
Both scores are calculated by measuring the average number of words per sentence and the
average number of syllables per word, so use the scores as a guideline only.
The Readability Statistics can also provide some averages that lend insight into a
writer’s habits and tendencies. The Readability Statistics displays both the average number of sentences per paragraph and the average number of words per sentence. You might
encourage the student who writes in short, staccato phrases to increase her words per
sentence (unless, of course, she is the reincarnation of Hemingway). And you might try
and steer the student who includes long, rambling, dirt-road journeys in each paragraph
toward trying to reduce her sentences per paragraph. These are certainly crude measurements, but for students with particular tendencies, they might encourage experimentation with new writing styles.
Limitations of Grammar Check
You should also explain to your students that Word’s grammar check, while powerful, is not
able to catch every error. Consider these examples courtesy of Sandeep Krishnamurthy at the
University of Washington (http://faculty.washington.edu/sandeep/check/):
Sentences not caught by Microsoft Word’s Grammar Check:
Internets do good job in company name Amazon.
Internets help marketing big company like Boeing.
Internets make good brand best like Coca Cola.
Gates do good marketing job in Microsoft.
Gates do good marketing jobs out Microsoft.
Gates build the big brand in Microsoft.
The Gates is leader of big company in Washington.
Aside from being hilarious, these sentences also suggest that students should not rely
on grammar checking to catch all of their grammatical errors.
Working with Word’s Spell-Check Tool
The Spell-Check tool can be found under the Tools menu in most word processors. Word
processors, like AppleWorks and Word, have built-in dictionaries, and the Spell Checker
compares words in the document to words in the dictionary.
Some things to remind your students about:
1. Spell checking does NOT replace proofreading. If you use a correctly spelled
word incorrectly—like typing “there” when you mean “their”—the Spell Checker
won’t find that. For instance, the following sentence won’t trigger the Spell
Checker: “Awl of yore palls want too now if ewe half a reel problem.”
2. If the Spell Checker gives you suggestions, don’t automatically take the first option from the top of the list. Use a dictionary to help you find the right option.
3. If the Spell Checker doesn’t give you any suggestions, use a dictionary to find the
correct spelling and then click in the top box of the Spell Checker to manually
change the word.
4. The dictionaries in the word processor don’t necessarily have every word in them,
especially technical or medical terms. If you can confirm that you are spelling a
word correctly in a large print or online dictionary, you can tell the Spell Checker
to stop highlighting a word by clicking the Ignore All option.
5. You can also use the Add to Dictionary option so that in the future Word will recognize the highlighted word. This can be very useful for commonly used words
like your name, your school name, or your students’ names. But be certain you
don’t do this with a misspelled word!
6. When writing a first draft, the Spell Checker can distract you from getting your
good ideas down on paper. Consider disabling the Spell Checker by going to Tools
Spelling (sometimes Tools Spelling and Grammar) and clicking Options and
then unchecking the option Check spelling as you type.
WEBSITE: A handout for students that covers this information about writing
can be found at http:/www.edtechteacher.org/chapter7.html.
Improving Writing with Word Count
Not only is William Strunk’s admonishment to “omit needless words” a fine piece of
advice, but it also practices what it preaches (unlike the less-well-known “Never use a
larger word when a more diminutive one will do)”.
The Word Count function in Microsoft Word or OpenOffice Writer can help students
develop concise prose writing. The function can be found under Tools Word Count,
and when selected it displays the number of words, characters, lines, pages, and paragraphs. Students might use this function to be sure that they composed the minimum
number of words for an assignment, but it can also be used to help train students to refine
Lesson Plan for Teaching Concise Writing
Here’s a simple writing exercise, spread over three days, for sharpening one’s writing:
Day 1: Assign a writing assignment of 280–320 words on any question. Be clear that
the complete assignment must fall within the required number of words, and students
should use the Word Count tool to be sure they fall within the requirement.
Day 2: In class, explain that the next day’s assignment is to edit the first draft down
to 180–220 words, without losing any meaning. Again, students should use the Word
Count tool to make sure they have exactly the right number of words.
Some hints for students:
1. Look for complete sentences that repeat information and delete them. Make each
point once and move on.
2. Look for a series of short sentences that can be combined into a single one.
Change “Beth had superpowers. She could turn invisible. She used these powers
From Pre-Writing to Polishing 179
mostly for good” into “Beth had the supernatural ability to turn invisible, which
she used mostly for good.”
Use possessives instead of prepositional phrases or other long phrases. Write
“Jonas’s magical wand” instead of “the magical wand of Jonas” or the mangled
“the magical wand that belonged to Jonas.”
Eliminate unnecessary adverbs, most of which end in -ly. Instead use strong, wellchosen verbs. Use “Melinda sprinted to the cheeseburger” instead of “Melinda
ran quickly to the cheeseburger.”
Eliminate passive voice constructions. Write “Philip saved the drowning poodle”
rather than “The drowning poodle was saved by Philip.”
Read chapter 13 from Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, “Omit Needless
It can actually become a fun game to try to find all the needless words in a sentence,
and students recognize the improved sound of the revised language. Find one brave volunteer, and project his or her first draft onto a screen, and then have the entire class come
up with suggestions for making the draft less wordy. If you have the ability to project
directly onto a white board, you can use colored markers to “edit” the projected image
and to help students better see changes.
Day 3: The final task is to get the original draft down to between 140–160 words, or
half as long as the original. Keep in mind the words of Blaise Pascal: “The present letter
is a very long one, simply because I had no leisure to make it shorter.”
Improving Writing with the Find Command
Tech Specs: Using the Find Command
Set-Up Time: None.
Keep-Up Time: None.
In-Class Time: It will take at most 10 minutes to teach this to your
Tech Savvy: Low.
One of the best tools for improving student writing is also one of the simplest: the Find
command. Press Control-F (Apple-F on Macs), and you will bring up the Find and
Many teachers keep some sort of list of “no-no” words, “boring” words, or “words
that slowly destroy Mr. Reich’s soul”—words like “a lot,” “good,” “I think,” and the
dreaded “in conclusion.” These words are singled out for revision in part because they
are so common, and teachers often require that these words be excised and replaced. The
Find command makes it easy to find these criminal terms. Ask students to put the words
in the Find What box and then click Find Next. The word processor will highlight the
offending word, and the student can find an alternative, and then click Find Next again
to move on to the next offense.
With the Find function, you can search for, and get rid of, mundane words such as “okay.”
Source: Microsoft product screen shot reprinted with permission from Microsoft Corporation.
Here are some other elements of weak language to search for:
1. Weak Verbs: Have students find and replace “there is,” “there was,” “there are,”
and “there were” for more active, lively verbs.
2. Adverbs: When using the Find command, you don’t have to search for whole words.
Enter “ly” and you can find most adverbs and then eliminate unnecessary ones.
3. First and Second Person: In essays where “I” and “you” are inappropriate, these
can be found and revised.
4. Commonly Misused Homonyms: If you know a student has trouble with “there,”
“their’” and “they’re,” use Find to search them out, as the Spell Check tool may
not catch the problem.
For students who repeatedly make the same error, the Find command can be a powerful tool for improving their writing.
It can be quite frustrating to deal with different file types from different word processing programs. Fortunately, there is a file type that all word-processors read: the rich
text format, or .rtf. To save files in this type, choose File Save As and then look for a
dropdown menu that says Save As Type. Choose this format and require your students to
choose this format as well.
The .rtf files are smaller and more secure than .doc and other files, which can contain
Peer Editing with Word Processors
Tech Specs: Peer Editing with Word Processors
Set-Up Time: Expect to spend a few minutes modifying some of our example
rubrics to meet your needs.
Keep-Up Time: None.
In-Class Time: Budget 20 minutes to a whole period to let students peer edit.
If you can count on students having access to email at home, you can also
have them exchange papers for peer editing for homework.
Tech Savvy: Low.
From Pre-Writing to Polishing 181
Educators know that the best way to learn something is to teach it. One of the best ways
to learn to write, therefore, is to edit other people’s writing.
Creating a classroom environment that fosters honest, supportive communication is a
key prerequisite to good peer editing. Students need to feel like their peers will provide
helpful criticism without harsh tones or unkind words. In face-to-face settings, students
are likely to be too gentle with their peers, while in online settings, students will often
critique more vigorously and sometimes too harshly. Students need to be coached to
provide specific feedback that identifies problems and offers encouragement.
Students need guidance on how to provide feedback, so teachers should provide students with either peer-editing worksheets or copies of the grading rubric that the teacher
plans on using. If the rubrics are built only of numbers to be circled, then they should be
modified to include space to write specific suggestions.
All of this can be done electronically. Teachers can email rubrics or worksheets to
their students, students can email their papers back and forth or transfer them with thumb
drives, and students can email their revisions back to the author and the teacher.
A very simple peer-editing rubric to help guide students in editing might include just
a space to compliment the author and spaces to offer specific criticisms and suggestions.
Here is an example:
Peer Editing Rubrics:
Title of Work:________________________________
Provide three specific compliments for the author:
Provide three specific suggestions to improve the paper:
Provide three specific constructive criticisms about the work:
Tom’s Essay-Writing Checklist
Tom’s Essay-Writing Checklist is designed to help students write more purposeful and
cohesive essays and eliminate common writing errors. The idea is to focus students
on addressing their essay topics in a direct, clear, and persuasive manner and to ensure that students include relevant, well-chosen, and clearly explained examples and
The Checklist reminds students of the importance of the thesis statement and that the
introduction should be clear and lively and provide concise but necessary context. As for
the body paragraphs, the Checklist guides students to create clear and direct topic sentences that help support the thesis statement. It places emphasis on the incorporation of
relevant and persuasive supporting evidence and encourages students to anticipate and
neutralize opposing arguments. The Checklist also guides students to craft effective restatements of their thesis statements and major points of their essays, as well as provide
final forceful assertions of the importance of their essays.
Essay-Writing Checklist __________________________________________________
_ The introduction includes an opening sentence that grabs the reader’s
_ The writer does a satisfactory (and brief) job of informing the reader of the
topic (who?, what?, where?, when?, why?, how?).
_ The introduction has a clear, direct, and arguable thesis statement that
answers the question and offers a decisive opinion.
_ All the paragraphs in the body have clear topic sentences that relate
directly to the topic of the essay and help support the thesis statement.
_ The evidence in each body paragraph supports the topic sentence in that
paragraph and, thus, supports the thesis statement.
_ The evidence includes material from primary sources that has been clearly
identified and has been either quoted or paraphrased.
_ All the body paragraphs have a “punch” or tie-in sentence that
reinforces the paragraph’s main idea and supports the thesis statement.
(The body paragraphs may also, but are not required to, contain a
_ Evidence, events, or issues that may strongly contradict the writer’s thesis
statement and arguments have not been ignored in the body, but have been
effectively counter attacked or neutralized.
_ The conclusion includes a restatement of the thesis statement and the
major points in the body.
_ The conclusion makes a connection to a broader theme or related topic that
is relevant and underlines the importance of the essay.
_ The writer has made a final, forceful attempt to persuade you of the
correctness of his or her thesis statement and the importance of the topic in
Spelling and Grammar
You have checked for the following common errors :
_ To/too/two; lose/ loose
_ Its/it’s; then/than
_ Your/ you’re; a lot
_ Missing or incorrect capitalization
_ Incorrect pronoun reference—one, he/she, they, your, etc. (Canada = it;
Canadians = they)
_ Comma splices, run-on sentences (join independent clauses by semi-colon
or split into two sentences)
_ Inconsistent tense (was, is, will be); history essays are usually in the past tense
_ Apostrophes for possessives (Tom’s house, the city’s leader)
Name of author of essay______________ Your name_______________________
My “buddy” has provided me with a completed rough draft that I have
reviewed and edited. I provided comments and suggestions to improve the
essay. (Your signature)__________________
Tom’s Essay-Writing Checklist helps peer editors identify basic conventions of structured and
Justin’s Essay Rubrics
These rubrics are designed to allow the teacher and students to comment extensively
on student writing without needing to spend inordinate time doing so. Students are
evaluated in seven categories, and the most common comments that might be applied
to a student’s paper are provided for each of those seven categories. Thus the reviewer,
whether a teacher or student, just needs to highlight the appropriate comments. Space
is also available in the rubric to provide comments specific to the essay.
This example is a rubric modified for evaluating an essay on the civil rights movement.
CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT ESSAY RUBRIC
unclear, or not
persuasive. Thesis not
defended. Topic poorly
Essay argues thesis.
Incomplete support from
evidence. Some confusing
lines of argumentation.
Essay describes rather than
Thesis argued with
specific evidence and clear
interpretation of source
material. Essay explains the
efficacy of nonviolence.
Thesis persuasively argued
with specific evidence, elegant
argumentation, and original
interpretation of source
-you use great evidence
-polish up your thesis so it is clear and explains exactly what you will be arguing
-you explore and tie in the Christian religion very well
Main points of essay
Some main points of essay
Thesis describes rather than
Clear and decisive thesis that
explains a causal (cause-andeffect) relationship. Main
points of essay introduced.
Thesis and main points
elegantly introduced. Thesis
particularly original or
insightful. Introduction grabs
I am not quite sure what your thesis is. Both the first and last sentence of the paragraph introduce some main points, but it is hard to distinguish
what you are going to talk about in your body paragraphs. Introduce nonviolence in the civil rights movement, explain your main points, and
then have your thesis be the last sentence of your intro.
Some body paragraphs
begin with a topic sentence
and present one idea
Body paragraphs have topic
sentences, present one idea
clearly, and are linked with
Each paragraph reads with the
clarity of a mini-essay, and
the paragraphs seamlessly
transition from one to the next.
Central argument restated
with different language.
Broader significance of
Central argument persuasively
reexamined using the
developed evidence. Broader
significance of essay explained.
-good topic sentences
-good use of examples and good explanation of examples
Main argument restated
with recycled language.
Central argument restated
in similar language.
-you have not finished this paragraph, but just make sure you bring up a new point in your conclusion
Essay is focused on
narration and summary
rather than analysis and
Essay in some parts is driven
by analysis rather than
narration. Some parts of
argument refer back to thesis.
Connections are limited.
Essay is driven by analysis
rather than narration. Analysis
serves to support and
reinforce thesis. Connections
are made amongst paragraphs.
Essay showcases a
sophisticated and/or original
interpretation of historical
events. Disparate historical
elements are synthesized.
-you use historical examples very well; they support the point you are trying to make very well
-your paragraphs are all connected in a way and you do a great job transitioning into new paragraphs
presented without citation
or works cited missing.
General evidence supports
thesis. Significance of some
evidence unclear. Missing
some types of sources.
Specific evidence supports
the thesis. Significance of
evidence is clear. Evidence
is gathered from multiple
Significant, specific evidence
persuasively supports the
Clear indications of original
interpretation of sources.
-you use a lot of different evidence…quotes from people, historical examples, etc.
-you explain your examples and how they relate back to and support the point you are making
Grammar and usage
obstruct the paper’s
Grammar errors are
distracting to the reader.
Only one or two
Paper reads easily.
Paper is free of grammatical
errors. Paper reads easily and
style supports the argument.
-grammar is great
-writing gets a little choppy and hard to understand at some times
This rubric that Justin gives to his students for peer editing is the very same rubric he’ll use to grade this paper.
From Pre-Writing to Polishing 185
PENCIL: If you do a lot of peer editing throughout the year, keep a stash
of blank, generic rubrics in your classroom. That way if you plan to use
computers for peer editing but something goes wrong, you’ll have a ready
WEBSITE: These rubrics and several others can be downloaded and
modified at http://www.edtechteacher.org/chapter7.html.
Simple Word Processing Tools for Peer Editing
Three tools that are very useful for inserting comments in an essay include the bold
typeface, the change font color function, and the highlight function.
Boldface type can be inserted by hitting Control-B (Apple-B on Macs) before typing
or by clicking the large, dark B button on the top toolbar. This is probably the easiest
way of interjecting a comment into someone else’s writing.
The font color can be changed in the Format Font menu or by using the font color
dropdown menu in the Formatting toolbar. The highlighter can typically be found right
next to the font color tool. These tools work as well as inserting bold type, but they require more clicking with the mouse.
Peer editors should recommend changes with these tools rather than directly changing or revising the original wording of the paper. That way, authors can evaluate the
comments of their editors before making any changes.
If this entire process takes place electronically, with students emailing papers back
and forth, editors are much more likely to be harsher critics. It’s much tougher to
deliver criticism with the person sitting right next to you. Depending on the dynamics in your classroom, this can be for good or for ill. Coach students to be sure that
they are giving helpful, specific, and critical feedback and also providing support and
Peer Editing with Track Changes
A more complex editing function built into Word is the Track Changes system. This
system lets you edit and make changes directly in the document without permanently
modifying the original document. It is especially useful when several people are
reviewing the same document.
To start the function, click on Tools Track Changes. A new toolbar will appear with
one button automatically depressed: the Track Changes button. (You may have to go
to View Toolbars Reviewing to see this toolbar.) When this button is pressed, new
text added will be underlined and in red (red is the default color, though you can choose
others in the Preferences menu). Any text that is deleted or modified will appear in a
bubble to the right of the document. Pressing the Insert Comment button will allow you
to type comments that appear in the right margin and are connected to a specific area in
the document by a dotted line (in older versions of Word, these comments will appear at
the bottom of the page).
Reviewers use these tools to edit and make commentary inside a document, and
when they save the document, the edits and comments are preserved. The author
can open the document, and then use the same tools to accept or reject the changes.
The buttons with arrows in the toolbar move the cursor to the next or previous
change, and the check button and the X button accept and reject the proposed
These buttons allow the writer to move through the changes of the editor and accept or reject the
Source: Microsoft product screen shot reprinted with permission from Microsoft Corporation.
It’s a slick interface and popular in the workplace, but it does require that all students
have access to Microsoft Word. It’s also a little more time-consuming to teach than
teaching students to insert commentary with the bold key.
WEBSITE: For a video tutorial about using Microsoft Word’s Track Changes
function, go to http://www.edtechteacher.org/chapter7.html.
Peer Editing or Workshopping with Blogs
Blogs, with their built-in comment functions, are natural places for certain kinds of peer
editing. Word processors are better environments for editing long pieces or getting into
the nitty-gritty of spelling, grammar, and sentence structure. But for making a document
available to many people who can offer more holistic comments, blogs are a terrific
environment. Blogs can create conditions similar to a writers’ workshop rather than the
one-to-one author and editor relationship. (For a fuller explanation of blogs, refer to
Chapter 2, “Discussion and Communication.”)
If you have a system where each student has his or her own blog, then you can assign
students to post their writing assignments to their blogs and then visit the blogs of their
peers and comment on their work.
If you have just one class blog, it might be best to take turns posting student writing
to the blog, where each week (or a few times a week) one student-author gets to receive
extensive feedback from the rest of the class. Conversations about writing naturally
evolve from this model, where the students comment both on the posted writing and on
the feedback of others. Dialogue and debate can emerge about how best to improve the
featured piece of writing.
Students who would be terrified to share their work in class can be much bolder with
Beyond the Essay 187
the distance provided by the Internet. Similarly students who might never comment on
another student’s writing in class might feel safer posting a comment on a blog.
Beyond the Essay: Using Word Processors to Devise
When the idea of a stack of 75 papers on the same topic starts to look a little daunting,
here are some great ways to get students writing without you having to read the same
old essay over and over again.
Editing with a Twist
Tech Specs: Editing with a Twist
Set-Up Time: 30–60 minutes to create a new writing assignment or modify
an old one.
Keep-Up Time: None.
In-Class Time: It will take perhaps 10 minutes to explain the assignment during
the first class and then a full period for students to edit in the second class.
Tech Savvy: Low.
In this exercise, students prepare a piece of writing with the expectation that they will
have one class period in the computer lab to refine their work. When they arrive, give
them a surprise that requires them to alter their writing as they revise.
Example: Sermon in Birmingham
In this assignment, students who have studied Christianity and the civil rights Movement
are asked to compose a sermon to be delivered on September 15, 1963, right in the heart
of the Birmingham Movement and two weeks after the March on Washington.
Instructions to students:
1. Write a two-page sermon, drawing on the New Testament readings we have
read for homework and in-class. The sermon will be delivered on September
16, 1963, in Birmingham. This is several weeks after the successful March
on Washington, and right in the middle of the heroic and brutal Birmingham
Campaign for Civil Rights. Your sermon should use Christianity to inspire,
console, and motivate your congregation.
2. Please use Times New Roman 12 point font with 1.5 spacing.
3. Save it to the school server or your thumb drive. If you use a program other
than Word or Appleworks, you should copy and paste the text into an email or
4. At the beginning of class I will give you instructions, and then I’ll give you
about 30 minutes to revise the sermon.
When students arrive in class—with a digital copy of their two-page sermon—they
get set up at their computers and then receive this information:
After successfully presenting your sermon at the morning service, you retire
to your quarters to rest before the 11:00 service. At 10:30, one of the church
members rushes in and tells you that something horrible has happened: the
16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham has been bombed; 4 little girls at
Sunday school have been killed.
As an important leader in your community, it will be your job to console
your community, and to help them understand how these deaths fit into your
struggle for civil rights.
The second service starts in half an hour. You probably don’t have time to
write a whole new sermon. Your challenge, then, is to adapt what you have
written to take into account this shattering loss of innocent lives.
Good luck; your congregation is depending on you.
Students are also given an excerpt from “Six Dead After Church Bombing,” an article from September 16, 1963, by United Press International, which can be found here:
Students are then evaluated on their ability to revise their sermon to mourn the loss of
life, to motivate their congregations to press on with the civil rights movement, and to
support their assertions with evidence from the New Testament.
The editing tools available in word processors enable students to revise their writing
based on new information without necessarily starting from scratch, making engaging
“twist” exercises like this one possible.
Writing Newspapers or Magazines
Tech Specs: Designing Historical Newspapers or Magazines
Set-Up Time: Plan on spending at least 30 minutes familiarizing yourself with
some of the formatting tools that might help students make a newsletter.
It will probably take another 30–60 minutes to create an appropriate
assignment, but you can find several newspaper-type projects on the Web.
Keep-Up Time: None.
Classroom Time: Anywhere from three periods to several weeks.
Tech Savvy: Low to medium.
A newspaper or magazine can be a terrific collaborative project, combining writing,
editing, design, and teamwork into a single assignment.
A newspaper layout can be easily created in word processors using two tools: the Text
Box and Columns.
Text boxes are inaptly named; you can put images and other things in them as well.
Beyond the Essay 189
The text box is a useful tool for creating simple layout and design, and each box can be filled with text
or even an image.
Source: Microsoft product screen shot reprinted with permission from Microsoft Corporation.
They simply act as placeholders. To draw a text box, click on Insert Text Box and
then click and drag the mouse to draw a box on the document. Once the box is drawn,
you can click and drag on the corners of a text box to enlarge or shrink it.
A long rectangular text box along the top of a page can be a newspaper banner. A
short vertical text box in the lower left-hand corner can be a table of contents. The front
page can contain several different small text boxes with story leads and then the rest of
the articles in text boxes on subsequent pages. Students can jazz up their newsletters
with digital photographs or images from the Web that are copied and pasted into text
boxes. With a little formatting work, your students can create a slick-looking newspaper
in short order.
Another tool that can be helpful is the Column tool. Click on Format Columns to
reveal a window of options for formatting with Columns. Using this tool, a page can
easily be broken up into two or three columns like a newsletter. This is simpler than formatting with text boxes, though the boxes have more flexibility. You can also combine
these tools, inserting text boxes onto pages formatted with columns.
PENCIL: If you don’t have enough computers to go around, or you can’t use
them every day of this project, your students can still make progress on their articles. They can mock up a layout for the newspaper with pencils and paper, and
they can also peer edit printed copies of each other’s articles.
Using columns can
help easily create
of a newspaper or
shot reprinted with
Tech Specs: Merry-Go-Round Tales and Poems
Set-Up Time: 5–10 minutes.
Keep-Up Time: None.
In-Class Time: Either a whole class period, or 5–10 minutes a day over several
Tech Savvy: Low.
When you need a break from the regular routine, try this very silly writing exercise.
Ask each of your students to begin a story with 1–2 sentences in an email editor or
word processor. Give them 2–3 minutes, and then have them email those introductions
to a classmate; it can help to create a rotation. Everyone should then get another 2–3
minutes to write another 1–2 sentences.
The writers should then change the font color of the first few sentences to white font
on a white background, rendering the original text invisible. Students should once again
email around their stories. When the next student receives the emailed story, he or she
should again add a few sentences and turn the previous sentences to white font on white
background. In this way, the story progresses, though each student can see only the previous few lines and not the entire story.
This activity can be modified in a few ways. It works just as well with poems as with
prose. If you are in a computer lab and don’t want to futz with email, you can have the students change seats instead of sending the files. You can also set up this activity to take place
over several days or weeks, with students adding 1–2 sentences for homework each night,
or as a warm-up to class. However you choose to run the exercise, be sure to read a few
aloud in class or post all of them to your class blogs. A few are guaranteed to be hilarious.
Writing Collaboratively with Wikis 191
Writing to Others: Letters to the Editor, Editorials, and
Communicating with Other Real People
As mentioned in Chapter 2, “Discussion and Communication,” great writing projects
can include letters to newspaper editors, to writers, to professors, and to anyone else
with email, which is just about everyone. Have students direct their thoughts to people
in the wider world rather than just you, the teacher.
Writing Collaboratively with Wikis
A wiki is essentially an encyclopedic Web site that anyone can edit, making it the perfect
tool to enable teams and classes to write together. Wikis can be in-house sites meant to
serve a limited number of editors or wide-open sites where almost anyone can contribute. The most famous example of a wiki is Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia whose articles are edited by volunteers and whose content is subject to change by nearly anyone.
Wikipedia is one of the most popular reference sites on the Web, with around 60 million
hits per day. (See Chapter 5, “Open Research,” for our take on Wikipedia.) The term
“wiki” comes from a Hawaiian word meaning quick.
Web 2.0 or the Read/Write Web:
Much ink has been spilled over the last few years heralding innovations known collectively
as Web 2.0 or the Read/Write Web that allow users to easily contribute to the sprawling
Web. Time magazine’s decision to make “You” the 2006 Person of the Year—if you added
content to the Web—marked the ascendance of a series of Web-based tools that allowed
people to easily add to the Web. Blogs and wikis are the most frequently mentioned tools
with educational applications in the Read/Write Web, though Bernie Dodge’s WebQuest
creation tool fits well into this category. Flickr, a photo-sharing Web site, and YouTube, a
video-sharing Web site, are two other popular vehicles for ordinary citizens to add to the
Web. Social-networking sites, like Facebook and MySpace, represent another avenue for
people to make their mark on the global Internet.
What should educators make of all this? Well, if the best way to learn how to
write is to write, then young people have many more venues in which to share their
thoughts through writing, with audiences as intimate as their circle of friends and
as wide as the rest of the world. There are some safety concerns related to online
predators and other wackos, but a few commonsense reminders (like Don’t Post
Personal Information on the Web) can steer kids clear of much danger. If educators
can use the hype and excitement of these tools to get students to do more writing and
communicating, then Web 2.0 can be a significant step forward for educators who use
technology in their classrooms.
Wikis are a pretty exciting technology for classroom teachers, and these are just some
of the reasons why:
• Students, teachers, and even parents can collaborate to gather, edit, and present
information on a wiki.
• A wiki can be used to build a classroom dictionary of terms in a subject area. For
example, students could build a list of historical or literary definitions for a course.
• Students can also use a wiki as a class notes page that serves as a study guide for tests.
Each student could contribute a set of notes and add comments to existing notes.
• Another idea is to break kids up into small groups for a project or activity and have them
paste their work on a wiki. One could then invite other student groups to comment.
• Wikis are a great medium for peer editing and workshopping papers, poems, and other
forms of writing, since multiple people can contribute thoughts to the same document.
• Wikis can also be used to enhance professional collaboration. For example, teachers
in a department or district could build a curriculum unit together or simply post
their lessons and assignments.
• A teacher can post words for students to expand into definitions.
• Students can research new topics and contribute their findings.
• Students can use the wiki to prepare for a final exam, like an AP test. Students can
each be given responsibilities for a given set of topics.
• A wiki can be used as a portfolio showing development of a project.
• Teams of teachers who instruct core courses can develop and edit curricula together.
A wiki is a great option if you want to create a space where students can collaborate
on a project or series of projects and with the increasing and immense popularity of
Wikipedia, students and teachers are becoming increasingly familiar with the look and
navigation style of wikis.
Anatomy of a Wiki
Wikis can be designed with a wide variety of templates, but most wikis have three basic
sections: a navigation sidebar on the left, page-editing tabs on the top, and information
in the body of the page.
A well-designed navigation sidebar will have links to important sections of the wiki
or, perhaps, for larger wikis like Wikipedia, a search function.
The page editing tabs typically have one tab for the article of the page, one tab for
discussion concerning the contents of the page, one tab for history of who has edited the
page and when, and one tab for directly editing the page.
The body of the page can contain text, internal links to other sections of the wiki,
external links to anything else on the Web, and images and other media. Editing a wiki
page does not require knowledge of HTML or other programming languages.
Four Wiki Examples
Tom Daccord’s U.S. History Wiki
For Tom’s U.S. History class wiki, students took turns posting their homework assignments using a variety of formats, including Inspiration concept maps (see Chapter 3, “Note
Taking and Organization”). Tom also provides links to other resources, like study guides
and online quizzes (see Chapter 9, “Assessment and Grading”) that he has created.
Tom uses his classroom wiki to create a set of collaborative notes for students to
consult when writing essays or preparing for tests. Students can create their notes using
Microsoft Word or another program and then paste them into the classroom wiki. Tom
organizes the wiki by setting up sections and pages to which the students will post. He
Writing Collaboratively with Wikis 193
Well-designed wikis are easy to navigate and intuitive to use.
also includes his own notes as well as images and other types of illustrative content. One
of the advantages of the wiki is that students have a shared set of notes that they consult
and edit as needed. It encourages collective student ownership of the material and creates an archive of notes that could potentially be of service to other classes or even to
other schools. To see Tom’s wiki, go to http://nobilis.nobles.edu/tcl/doku.php, follow the
link to Courses, and then choose his 2006–2007 U.S. History course.
Organized by unit and then by assignment, Tom’s wiki provides an interactive database for his students.
Dr. Reich’s Chemistry Wiki
Dr. Blair Jesse Ellyn Reich is a chemistry teacher at Natick High School in Natick,
Massachusetts, who has created a fabulous instructional wiki. Students in his various
classes consult the wiki for weekly assignments, projects, notes, ideas, labs, and instructional videos. Dr. Reich’s engaging “Video Labs” and “Video Lectures” are quite
popular and are watched by many more people than just his students!
Dan McDowell’s AP World History Wiki
To be inspired by usefulness and simplicity, visit this gem of a review page by Dan
McDowell’s class in San Diego. McDowell organized his students into groups to review for
the World History AP exam and created a simple, well-organized, streamlined wiki project.
The pages are written by students and have simple formatting, basic text, and a few
images. This is a great model for a teacher embarking on a first wiki project.
McDowell used wikis to create this great, student-produced review for the AP World History test.
Source: Courtesy of Dan McDowell.
Writing Collaboratively with Wikis 195
Flat Classroom Project
This more sophisticated project shows off more of the advanced possibilities of wikis. In
this project, students in Georgia and Bangladesh worked together to research and explore
topics from Thomas Friedman’s book The World Is Flat. Each article was co-designed by
students on two continents and includes texts, images, tables of contents, and videos that
were produced by students, uploaded to Google video, and then embedded in the wiki.
The Flat Classroom Project wiki, produced by students on opposite sides of the globe, shows
the unifying potential of classroom wikis. Source: Courtesy of Vicki Davis and Julie Lindsay.
Visit this site and be sure to look at the discussion pages, where you can follow the
conversations that students shared from across the world as they created this wiki.
Your First Wiki Project
Tech Specs: Getting Started with Wikis
Set-Up Time: Plan on investing at least an afternoon in learning about wikis
and designing your own.
Keep-Up Time: If you use it regularly, you will need to budget at least an
hour a week to monitor and update your wiki.
In-Class Time: Depends on how you use it.
Tech Savvy: Medium to high. Wikis are still very new to most people, so there is
some unfamiliarity. They are not the simplest tools, but they are very powerful.
Most people will find it quite possible to design and manage a basic wiki.
Choosing a Wiki Host
The easiest way to get started with wikis is to choose a wiki provider that will host your
Web sites, offer basic templates, and have a simple interface. Right now, http://www
.pbwiki.com/ and http://www.wikispaces.com/ are two good choices. Simple wikis
with PBwiki are currently free, with premium pages costing $10 a month. Wikispaces
is offering free wikis to the first 100,000 educators to sign up, and they have 25,000
left, so you might still get in there after this goes to print. Otherwise, plans start at $5
Web site: http://www.pbwiki.com/
Cost: Basic wikis are free, and premium wikis are $10/month.
PBwiki uses a simple, Web-based interface so that you can design, customize, and
manage an online wiki that your students can contribute to and collaborate in.
Web site: http://www.wikispaces.com/
Developer: Tangient LLC
Cost: Free for the next 25,000 teachers who sign up
Wikispaces is another popular and functional Web-based wiki-creation tool.
Ten Steps to Starting a PBwiki
Step 1: Register for a Wiki. Getting started with PBwiki is quite simple. Choose a
site name, which will be the Web address, and submit your email.
Step 2: Confirm Your Wiki. A second page will be loaded that announces that
PBwiki has sent you a confirmation email, and it includes a little movie introducing you
Step 3: Choose a Password and Settings. Open up your email, find the email from
PBwiki, and open the link to a confirmation page. Answer the basic questions, and be
sure to choose to use the new WYSIWYG editor. WYSIWYG stands for What You See
Is What You Get and is pronounced something like wizzy-wig. In general, things that are
WYSIWYG are simple and good.
When you choose your password, remember that you will need to share this password
with your colleagues or students to enable them to edit the wiki.
Click the Take me to my wiki button to get started.
Step 4: View Your New Wiki. The text you see on your home page is given to you by
PBwiki, but you will want to soon delete the “Welcome to your PBwiki” message and
replace that with your own text.
You can start making changes or adding new pages by clicking the Edit Page and New
Page buttons at the top and bottom of the page. If you ever get lost, click the Home button or the name of your wiki to return to your home page.
Writing Collaboratively with Wikis 197
When you get to your new wiki, you will see a home page similar to this one.
Source: Courtesy of PBwiki.
Step 5: Explore the Sidebar. You will notice that the PBwiki does not include the left
hand navigation bar common to Wikipedia and most wikis. Instead, it has a sidebar box
on the right-hand side of each page that has QuickStart links for creating new pages, a
Recent Activity tab to see who has been changing your page, and a sidebar with a small
Edit button in the corner.
If you click the sidebar Edit button, you can replace the introductory text with your
own text. The sidebar should include links to the most important pages on your wiki and
any other basic information students or colleagues need to understand how to navigate
Before editing the sidebar, let’s create a new page so we have something to link to!
Step 6: Create a New Page. From the front page of your wiki, click the New Page
button to create a new page. PBWiki has three handy templates for educators, so perhaps start by choosing a classroom page. The templates are previewed on the right.
Type the name of the page in the form on the top left and your new page will blossom
Step 7: Edit your New Page. When you choose a template, you will be taken to a
page editor pre-loaded with sample information that you should replace.
If you look at the buttons at the top of the page, you will see commands that should
be familiar to you from word processors.
You can use boldface type, italics, bullets, numbers, different font colors, and background
colors, and you can make all sorts of other changes.
The editing bar toward the top of the page provides you with many different options for formatting your
page. In this example Justin is modifying a template. Source: Courtesy of PBWiki.
Step 8: Create a Link. Several of the buttons will bring up additional menus that will
guide you through the creation of advanced features, like adding links, photos, or other
To add a link, click the Add Link button and then follow the instructions on the menus.
Creating internal links is particularly easy; just choose the name of the page from the
Step 9: Rename your Wiki. Click on the Settings button from your front page to get
to the settings menu. The first option lets you rename your wiki. Other options let you
change or add different features to your wiki, like setting up passwords, creating different templates, and so on.
Step 10: Share your Password. Once you give someone a password to the wiki,
they’ll be able to change any part of it. You’ll need to be clear with your students that
they must follow the school’s acceptable use policy (AUP) and your classroom guidelines for using the wiki.
If anyone does cause any serious damage to a page, you as the administrator can use
the history button on the bottom of each page to look at earlier versions (as well as the
name of the miscreant) and can revert back to those versions. No one can really permanently damage your wiki.
And that’s it! If you can create a new page, add links, and edit your wiki’s name,
that’s really all you need to be able to do to start compiling a wiki project. The PBwiki
tools have a great depth of editing features, so you can learn to do much more if you
choose to. But if you just want to create a space for students to collaborate on writing
projects—peer editing, exam reviews, or research—then those basic tools are all you
Final Thoughts 199
Of all the things we have discussed in this chapter, some of the tools for evaluating writing—
the Find command, the grammar-checking preferences, the readability statistics, the
Word Count command—are especially exciting because of the way they change the relationships among students, teachers, and writing. In the past, students wrote, and teachers
identified the mistakes. Students would go back and correct them; rinse and repeat.
The new tools discussed above empower student to evaluate their own writing. They
can now mine a fair amount of data about their writing without the help of their teachers.
With a better ability to evaluate themselves, we can focus more on teaching them how to
fix one example of a particular error, rather than spending our time identifying the same
errors throughout an essay. Ideally, students who understand their writing better will be
better equipped to improve their writing.
All new technologies have a variety of positive and negative effects, and they always
come with a group of prophets decrying the doom of the future. When it comes to computers and writing, the naysayers lament that all good habits of spelling, convention, and
decency will come crumbling down once everyone is emailing and instant messaging.
Perhaps. But students are also doing more writing—emailing back and forth between
friends, chatting with the written word using instant messaging, and chronicling their
lives through blogs in a glut of diarists—than we have seen in this country since the
nineteenth century. Some things may decay, but in the best-case scenarios, teachers will
use these changes to demonstrate to students the power of the written word and the
importance of communicating clearly, and teachers will then give students new tools to
improve their command of prose.