Teaching Word Processing Skills in English Class

By Mary Blow on November 16, 2010
  • Grades: 6–8, 9–12

I can’t imagine being proficient at my job without keyboarding skills. There is too much to do with so little time. Likewise, the ability to use a word processor to communicate is important to our students’ success in school and in the real world. However, at the 6th grade level, many students are still developing keyboarding skills. For this reason, it is essential that I include keyboarding in my middle school curriculum. Otherwise, utilizing technology as a form of communication is counterproductive. It consumes too much instructional time. We know that students pick up keyboarding easily. The texting generation is very quick with the thumb. They simply need the tools and the practice to expand this skill to all ten fingers.

Included in this article are videos on formatting essays in Microsoft Word and inserting footnotes into Microsoft Word documents.



In recent weeks, many teachers have become familiar with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects. As of November 11, 2010, all but 12 states have adopted the National Common Core State Standards in the "Race to the Top." According to the Common Core State Standards Initiative, “The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers.” The CCSS ELA Standards emphasize the strategic and capable use of technology in the areas of reading, writing, listening, and speaking.

According to a New York Times article, "U.S. Asks Educators to Reinvent Student Tests, and How They Are Given," nationwide computerized assessments will be implemented in the 2014–2015 school year. Students who do not have word processing skills will definitely be at a disadvantage. How do we prepare our students for computerized assessments when we have more content to cover than we have time to teach? I start by utilizing technology that helps me to meet the content area standards.


Developing Keyboarding Skills

When I integrate technology into my classroom, I consider how technology helps me to meet the national, state, and district ELA Learning Standards. According to CCSS ELA Standard W.6.6, 6th grade students must be able to “use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing as well as to interact and collaborate with others; demonstrate sufficient command of keyboarding skills to type a minimum of three pages in a single sitting.” Many of my students were "hunt and pecking" about 15 words per minute. We were lucky to get a paragraph or two typed in a class period much less three pages. Keyboarding skills are even more important to students with learning disabilities who have the option of using computers on their Individualized Educational Plans (IEP). If they don’t acquire keyboarding skills, computers slow down their progress and limit the amount of content we can cover. They will spend hours typing an essay without developing any content area skills. (For more on integrating technology standards, see the ISTE NETS and Performance Indicators for Students and the ISTE NETS and Performance Indicators for Teachers.)


In the past, to help my students acquire these skills, I've used Type to Learn, which has an academic version that can be installed on five computers. It also comes with a binder. This year, I discovered Typing Web, a FREE online typing tutorial. I enrolled all my 6th grade students, assigning each a user name and password. No email address was required for them to register. Students access the Web-based program from school or home. There is also a game component to motivate reluctant students. A data-collecting component tracks their progress and generates reports. I dedicated one class period to teaching my students how to use the program, proper keyboarding posture, and the home row keys. They completed one lesson and then they were on their own, utilizing study halls or free time to hone their skills. I tracked their progress online, and they earned extra credit as they advanced through the online program.


Formatting Essays 

Throughout the years, I have observed many students hitting the space bar to indent a paragraph or center the title. Others hit the enter key at the end of a line of text, creating gaps in edited versions. I’ve graded papers with multiple font styles, sizes, and colors. In all cases, the job is done; however, it is not academic. I use essays to teach students words processing skills because essays are a form of assessment that students will encounter throughout their educational career in all content areas. In addition, essay word processing skills apply to other forms of writing. A typing guide for essays is posted on the wall by all computers. They also get a copy for their English binders. Below is a video that I created to guide my students when formatting their essays in Microsoft 2007.

Eventually, we utilize other nonfiction text features such as illustrations, captions, or charts that enrich their documents and improve communication. If you don’t have Microsoft Office, you might use Open Office, an open source software similar to Microsoft Office that is free to individuals and educators. Google Docs has an online word processing feature; it allows students to collaborate on a document. You can upload documents to share, or you can create new documents online (see their educators page to learn more about using it in the classroom). However, an email address is required for registration, and many 6th grade students don’t have email.


Inserting Footnotes

When I first introduce footnotes at the 6th grade level, we utilize the text feature by defining vocabulary words. After introducing the words, my students engage in many activities to ensure that they understand the meaning. However, utilizing the words in their writing is more challenging. Footnoting vocabulary words, in an essay or a story, fosters ownership of the words. The student reference guides "Inserting Footnotes in Microsoft Word 2003" and  "Inserting Footnotes in Microsoft Word 2007" are helpful. My students keep them in their English binders for easy reference at school, and I posted the video below on my Web site to assist them at home. It illustrates how to insert footnotes into a Microsoft Word 2007 document. 


Additionally, footnotes simplify the assessment process: I grade the vocabulary component by forwarding through the footnotes, ensuring that the required number of vocabulary words is used and that each word is used in the correct context. Another benefit to teaching footnotes is that the skill transfers to state testing, as students know they can insert words or content into their handwritten text by footnoting the necessary information at the bottom of the page.

Furthermore, inserting footnotes into an essay helps to improve reading comprehension, as they are a text feature that my students must utilize when reading nonfiction literature. They define, clarify, and explain concepts that improve the reader’s comprehension. When students consider the text feature from the writer’s perspective, they learn the significance of footnotes in reading as well.


How do you teach word processing skills in your classroom? Share your tips and ideas below!




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