Online Resources: From Sentence to Essay

In some parts of the world, the summer is slowly moving to its end, and many of us are preparing for the new academic year. Some of us are going to continue teaching ESL writing and thus have most likely accumulated a wealth of materials and resources. Others may be novice in the area of teaching composition and they might feel overwhelmed and perhaps even anxious. I remember how difficult it was for me at the beginning of my teaching path to find helpful materials, and I wished someone could have directed me to the many online resources that are freely available for ESL teachers.

So in today’s blog, I will share a few online resources that some of you may find helpful for teaching writing. The three websites that I chose are devoted to three text levels: a sentence level, a paragraph level, and an essay (discourse) level.

Sentence Level: Paradigm Online Writing Assistant, “Focus on the Sentence”

This section of the website is devoted to sentence writing and thus may be more suitable for beginning writers. If your students learn how to write basic sentences with accurate grammatical structures, how to clearly express their ideas in sentences, and how to correctly apply writing mechanics, this resource is for you (and of course, for them, too)!

This resource is designed to help students at beginning levels learn about basic sentence concepts and write effective sentences. Some highlights include: types of sentences, parts of sentences and sentence structure, and sentence clarity. You can also find explanations about the most common grammar mistakes in writing (such as shift in person, shift in time, subject-verb agreement) and great suggestions on how to design effective and clear sentences.

Paragraph Level: Paragraph Punch

Using this resource, your students can better understand the basic structure of a paragraph as well as apply basic elements of paragraph writing.

This resource is not free, but it can be purchased for a very decent price. The free demo version offers one interactive activity that your students can try to see whether or not they would like to purchase a single version ($25/12 months). The full version of the software provides 15 interactive writing activities on a variety of topics. Choosing from a menu of topics, students are guided to generate ideas, write a topic sentence, the body of a paragraph, and a conclusion. Each interactive activity includes the following steps: prewriting, writing, organizing, revising, rewriting, and publishing. The software is a great tool for assessment and self-assessment, and for individual practice, and it may be especially useful in classes where a teacher is not able to provide personal attention to individual students.

Essay Level: University of Toronto, “Advice on Academic Writing”

This website offers a whole range of materials that can be used in academic writing classes.

The targeted audience of this website are teachers of academic writing courses and college students, but it can also be used by advanced ESL learners to improve their academic writing skills. The website provides rich information on academic writing, including types of academic writing (e.g., book reports, annotated bibliography, academic proposals, admission letters), academic writing techniques (e.g., paraphrasing, summarizing), style and editing, using sources, researching techniques, and some common ESL writing issues. Most sections are supported by PDF versions that teachers can use as handouts.


I hope that you find these materials useful. If you are interested in other online writing resources, as well as resources for other skill areas, let me know, and I will be happy to forward you a link to the complete document that I put together with my graduate student colleagues a few years ago as part of our class project.

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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