Honing students’ writing skills via the use of online tools


Honing students’ writing skills: 
A self-learning module for an optimized use of online writing tools

This project seeks to improve the writing skills of French-speaking university students majoring in English through regular practice in writing and an optimized use of online writing tools (dictionaries, corpus interfaces, etc.). Regular practice is essential to develop ‘writing fluency’ (Nguyen 2015). It is achieved via a portfolio that is made up of essays written at regular intervals throughout the year. As for the use of writing tools, it has been shown to have a positive impact on the development of learners’ writing skills (e.g. Gaskell & Cobb 2004, Todd 2001), especially at an advanced level (Granath 2009), provided that students receive adequate training (see, e.g., Bitchener & Ferris 2012: 159 or O’Sullivan & Chambers 2006).

Building on the latter observation, the use of online writing resources is the subject of specific training, which has been developed in two phases. The first phase consists in identifying the problems that students encounter during the writing process and in their use (or not) of online writing tools. This is done by capturing the writing process of the target group during an in-class writing task via keylogging and screen recording (cf. PROCEED corpus). The videos thus collected are annotated via a multi-layer annotation system in ELAN, making it possible to answer questions such as: when do students make use of online writing tools? how do they use these tools? does the use of these tools help them improve their texts? The answers to these questions feed into the second phase, which consists in developing a self-learning Moodle module that provides students with tailor-made training in the use of online tools. The module offers video demos of a range of tools, and an incremental learning course through weekly exercises for students to learn to master the tools and develop habits of use. It is tailored to the students’ needs since it focuses on the areas that have been identified as problematic for them (linguistic difficulties, but also inadequate use of specific tools) during the first phase.

The ultimate aim is that, combined with regular practice and more traditional teaching methods (e.g. feedback provided in class), this online course will empower students with long-lasting skills to become more autonomous and proficient writers in English.

This project is funded by the Fonds de développement pédagogique.

Project director: Gaëtanelle Gilquin
FDP collaborator: Samantha Laporte


Bitchener, J. & D.R. Ferris. 2012. Written Corrective Feedback in Second Language Acquisition and Writing. NY: Routledge.

Gaskell, D. & T. Cobb. 2004. Can learners use concordance feedback for writing errors? System 32: 301-319.

Granath, S. 2009. Who benefits from learning how to use corpora? In K. Aijmer (ed.) Corpora and Language Teaching (pp. 47-65). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Nguyen, T.C.L. 2015. Written fluency improvement in a foreign language. TESOL Journal 6.4: 707–730.

O’Sullivan, Í. & A. Chambers. 2006. Learners’ writing skills in French: Corpus consultation and learner evaluation. Journal of Second Language Writing 15: 49-68.

Todd, R.W. 2001. Induction from self-selected concordances and self-correction. System 29: 91-102.