Computers in Writing: Practical Suggestions for Software, Web Sites, and Hardware

by Mary Ann Sliwa
Fall 2004 issue
  There are many ways that computers can help in the writing process. I have used the following resources with a wide range of students and hope you will find my annotations helpful if you choose to explore them.

Story Webs
Looking for a moderately priced software tool? My all-time favorite for doing story Webs is Inspiration. It is a wonderful visual tool. Students love this! Depending on the students’ level, you can stay with text, use clip art pictures of many subjects, use it as a vocabulary family exercise, or teach science (the characteristics of the three states of matter, for instance). Before purchasing, you can see samples at:

Language arts ideas and demo:
Product information:
Kidspiration (K-5):

Parts of an Essay
For the more advanced students (GED or TOEFL level) who may still need repetition on the basics of topic sentences, there are well-presented exercises at and the table of contents is at

Creative Ideas
What if everything were yellow? What if the sky turned red at night? Try these exercises at and many other creative teaching ideas at

Sources for Illustrations: Microsoft
A big hit with all different levels of students (and staff) is the free clip art gallery at

For example, our Intermediate ESL class read Jane Eyre in their easy readers series. They thought of one image that the novel brought to mind, found in clip art gallery , of a young girl weeping, and wrapped their own words around it. For example, they wrapped the sentence, “When I think of Jane Eyre, I think of sadness,” behind it.

Paint is a fun program present on most Microsoft products (Start > Programs > Accessories > Paint). Just remember to go to the Image menu first and under Attributes choose inches and look at the size of your picture before you begin to illustrate your writing. If you do this afterwards, it crops out part of your picture or prints it on 15 different sheets.

One huge hit with all levels of students is making a cartoon easily with your drawing toolbar (View > Toolbars. Make sure there is a check in front of drawing). On the Drawing toolbar, click Autoshapes > Callouts to get the cartoon balloon and double-click to type your text.

AlphaSmarts are handy and cheap word processors. They are easy to carry around and almost indestructible.

Learning to Type
Mavis Beacon is a great typing tutorial. The software runs about $30, available in Staples, Best Buy, Office Max, but I have had students get it for under $10 on eBay.

Mary Ann Sliwa has been teaching adults for over thirteen years. She loves teaching writing, in ESOL, computer, TOEFL, and GED classes. She can be reached at:

  Originally published in: Field Notes, Vol. 14, No. 2 (Fall 2004)
Publisher: SABES/World Education, Boston, MA, Copyright 2004.
Posted on SABES Web site: November 2004

One Response to Computers in Writing: Practical Suggestions for Software, Web Sites, and Hardware

  1. Eric Roth says:

    Excellent concise overview of practical tools to help adult students improve their writing skills. Thanks for sharing!

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