5 Free Online Writing Labs

As we all know, the Internet provides a wealth of teaching materials, and many of them are free of charge. There are lots of web-based resources that we, writing teachers, can use to help our students become better writers: websites for ESL teachers, online corpora, discussions and forums, just to name a few. I’d like to share another resource—online writing labs, or OWLs, as they are commonly known. Many universities and colleges offer freely accessible OWLs. I often use the OWL hosted by my university (Purdue OWL), and it helps me both in my teaching and in my research. And, of course, I recommend it to my students as well.

Let me share my five favorite OWLs.

Guide to Grammar and Writing (Capital Community College)

This website is sponsored by the Capital Community College Foundation. It provides lots of helpful materials for teaching grammar and writing, as well as quizzes and practice activities. All materials are divided into three large sections: word and sentence level, paragraph level, and essay level. On the word and sentence level, for example, you can find materials on sentence parts (e.g., subject, verb, noun, object, adjective), punctuation, and types of sentences. On the paragraph level, you’ll find instructional materials about paragraph development, transitions, and coherence, to name a few. On the essay level, the website provides resources on writing process, essay structure, and patterns of organization. To find the topic you need, go to the Index.

Writing @ CSU (Colorado State University)

This writing lab is sponsored by Colorado State University and has various resources for students and teachers. The teacher can find teaching guides “ranging from planning and conducting classes to teaching with technology.” I particularly like a very rich section called “Teaching Activity Bank,” which provides materials for classroom activities, such as class discussions, small group activities, and peer review. All of these materials are available in Web format, Word format, and Adobe Acrobat format. Students, on the other hand, can find guides that cover a wide range of writing topics, including writing process, research and documentation, and writing in disciplines.

The Excelsior College OWL

This one is my favorite OWL! Sponsored by the Excelsior College, this online writing lab has an attractive interface and lots of interactive features. The information on the website is well organized, and the entire website is very easy to navigate. The materials are divided into several sections: writing process, locating information & writing with sources, digital writing, grammar essentials, essay zone, avoiding plagiarism, and L2 writing. The materials include not only verbal explanations, but also videos and practice activities. For the list of topics, go to the Site Index.

Purdue OWL

The online writing lab sponsored by Purdue University is a resource both for teachers and students. It provides a variety of materials on the general writing process, academic writing and research, subject-specific writing, and creative writing, to name a few. The website also has a separate section for ESL learners, which offers useful resources geared towards the needs of second language writers. Those applying for grad school or a job can find useful recommendations and materials on how to write graduate school applications and compose resumes, CVs, and cover letters. For topics, go to the site map.

Writing at the University of Toronto

This OWL is particularly helpful for teaching about academic writing skills. The website provides materials on planning and organizing, reading and researching, using sources, style, and editing. It also has an ESL section, which offers materials on common ESL writing issues. If you teach about different writing genres (e.g., book review, lab report, application letter), you may find the section “Specific Types of Writing” exceptionally useful. Most materials in the website are supported by PDF versions that teachers can use as handouts. Find PDFs for students as well as PDF materials for teachers.

If you have your favorite online writing labs, please share with us!

About Elena Shvidko

Elena Shvidko
Elena Shvidko is an assistant professor at Utah State University. She received her doctorate in second language studies from Purdue University and her master’s degree in TESOL from Brigham Young University. Her work appears in TESOL Journal, System, Journal on Response to Writing, TESOL interest section newsletters, and TESOL's New Ways series. Her research interests include second language writing, multimodal interaction, interpersonal aspects of language teaching, and teacher professional development.
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4 Responses to 5 Free Online Writing Labs

  1. Selva says:

    Hi Elena,

    I am preparing for an English teat. Writing test is one of the module. I need some one to validate my writing skill, can you please validate the following email writing and send your feedback. I have written answer for two questions, please validate both of them.

    Question 1

    Read the following information.

    Child Care at Work Survey

    You work in a very big office. There is a popular and cheap restaurant in the building. The boss is thinking of removing the restaurant and replacing it with a child care facility for the working mothers in the office. Your company has asked you to respond to an opinion survey.
    Option A: Restaurant: I think we should keep the restaurant.
    Option B: Child Care Facility: I think we should replace the restaurant with a child care facility.

    Having restaurant in our office premise is good option but I I feel the best option is to go for daycare facility for the working women in our office because the number of ladies working in our office is more and we know that they are struggling to take care of their kids.

    Based on the review of past three years attendance we did in the last month, we observed that most of the time ladies are coming late to the office and leaving early. The reason told by them is they need to drop their kids in the daycare in the morning and pick them up in the evening. For example our accountant Kate has two kids, her husband is in travelling most of the time for his job. She is the one should take care of the kids, so many time she is facing issue in coming to office on time.

    Moreover our office is in center of the downtown, we have many restaurants in just two minutes walk distance. Furthermore many of our employees bringing lunch from home having at our cafeteria.

    So I suggest having daycare facility with subsidized rate for the working women in our office which will help them to improve their performance at work.

    Read the following information.

    You are a high school teacher. A student of yours has just graduated with excellent marks from high school. This person wants to find work.


    Dear Michele,

    I am very happy and proud of you for the achievement you did in your high school annual exams. Getting 10th rank in the province in high school exam is not simple task, you achieved it.Also I was delighted when you scored 3rd rank in the province in mathematics the subject I taught you.

    I know your family situation demands you to go for job immediately instead of doing higher studies but I suggest you to go for higher studied in university. You may get job based on your high school qualification but the salary will be very less and also the possibility of career growth is limited. If you are getting university degree in specialized area the opportunities are wide open.

    Moreover based on my understanding you are capable of studying masters in mathematics and can join in some research institution because you have very good basic knowledge and problem solving skills in Maths. So I am suggesting you to go for college education instead of going for job now.

    Looking forward to hear from you the news about your college life in the next email.

    Warm regards,

  2. Yalcy says:

    Thank you so much! These materials are very useful.

  3. Kenny says:

    Thanks for the helpful list Lena!

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