Have you ever tried to have a group of students write a report together? If so, then you know how difficult it can be to make sure all students contribute to the final product. If the report is written using a computer, it can be even more of a challenge as one student writes and the rest of the group sits to the side. One advantage to using online writing tools is that many students can simultaneously contribute to the same document. Online word processors such as Google Docs allow students to write together even if they aren’t in the same room. Plus, because a history of changes is kept for the document, it’s easy to see who’s written what. Like any other word processor, basic formatting and spell check tools are available as is the ability to add images, Web links, and tables. In fact, the article you are reading was originally written by Michelle and Gayle using an online word processor!

Wikis are another great online writing tool. A wiki is a collaborative Web site created from the contributions of many users. While Wikipedia is probably the best known example, classroom wikis are becoming more common, too. The advantages of using a wiki for a collaborative project are many:

  • Wiki tools are usually much easier to understand than standard Web page creation tools
  • It is easy to track changes to any page and to revert to an older version if needed
  • You can decide whether your wiki pages are private or shared with the public. You can also decide whether the public can only read pages or contribute to them.

Setting up an online writing assignment isn’t all that different from any other writing assignment. A good writing prompt and clear criteria for the final product are always important. However, here are some things to consider when you begin writing online:

  • Check to see if the online site requires students to have their own account. Some sites such as Google Docs require students to have an email address in order to use them.
  • Set the criteria for the assignment before students go online. The excitement over using an online writing tool can take the focus away from good writing practices if you’re not careful. Create a rubric or outline of what the final product should look like and refer students to it often. In the example below, Christine Day created a rubric to help guide her students through their Google Docs group reports.
  • Keep an eye on what gets written online. Make sure to monitor student writing and consider using sites which keep student writing private until you are ready to publish.

Here are some online tools to help you get started:

Google Docs
Description: Web-based word processor that allows multiple students to work on the same document simultaneously.

Description: Online concept mapping tool for brainstorming and outlinine.

Description: Easy to use Wiki creation tool. Teachers can request an ad-free wiki site for classroom use.

Read, Write, Think
Description: A collection of online tools for writing and literacy support.

Book Report Sandwich Station
Description: Fun and easy book report tool to help students break a book report into seven components. Final reports can be printed.

Writing with Writers
Description: Online writing activities from several children’s authors. After completing the activities, students can submit their own writing for publication on the Scholastic Web site.