An app a day keeps the dull writing lesson away - 6 apps to make teenage and young adult learners write

I’ve always thought writing is an effective method to learn because it allows time to think, to prepare, to make mistakes and to correct them. There are a lot of learners who disagree, though.

Do your students moan and groan when it comes to writing? Don’t worry, it happens in most of the English classrooms. Why? In my students’ opinion writing was:

  1. time-consuming
  2. a task that made them feel like unimaginative people
  3. not an interesting activity

In order to dispel this myth I started to plan my writing skill lessons taking into account:

  1. my students’ language level
  2. possible audience
  3. the topic - “If students are not interested in the topics we are asking them to write or speak about, they are unlikely to invest their language production with the same amount of effort as they would if they were excited by the subject matter”. Jeremy Harmer (The practice of English language teaching)
  4. the purpose of the task - “The role of writing in everyday life has changed quite dramatically over recent decades. When selecting work for students, you need to be clear about whether it is useful practice”. Jim Scrivener (Learning Teaching)
  5. mobile learning - “M-learning is learning that takes place via portable, often WiFi enabled, handheld devices. This includes things like smartphones and tablets”. Nicky Hockly

After considering the above aspects I started, therefore, using mobile apps during my writing lessons. Below are 6 apps my students and I usually work with. All the apps are free.

  • Novel Idea (Android) - Novel Idea is an app to "create a story one sentence at a time”. It is competitive and challenging for all ages. Students will be able to write a story together (up to four people) one sentence at a time, while using vocabulary words appropriate for their age group. There are different levels and game modes include: "Novel Idea" (where a first sentence is provided), "Theme" (where a story theme is given to help stimulate creativity), "No-Rules" (no rules, no help, no twists, just scoring) and "Versus" (where you just have to use bonus words and keywords to form sentences ).
  • iStickyNote (Apple)
  • Shopping List (Android) - When it comes to beginner students we usually ask them to write a short paragraph about their family, hobbies or favourite food. This is good to review vocabulary and grammar structures, but what’s the communicative purpose? By leaving a message, writing a shopping list or jotting down a few notes students will feel much more rewarded because they will use English in order to achieve a communicative goal despite their little knowledge of the language.
  • Recipes (Android) - In Italy, where I teach, cookery is bread-and-butter. Students can share their recipes with each other with this app.
  • Goodreads (Apple/Android) - Apart from finding new and interesting books by browsing personalized recommendations based on books you’ve already read and your favorite genres, this app lets you write book reviews. This activity is especially useful for those students who are training for the Cambridge FCE because one of the writing pieces they are supposed to be able to write is the review.
  • Tellmewhere (Apple/Android) - Tellmewhere doesn't only help you identify the places around you, it goes further by ranking those based on your own personal tastes. You can quickly find the right place that matches your tastes. Ask your students to write a review about the bars, shops, or restaurants they usually go to. They won’t tell you they forgot their homework at home ;-)

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