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Published May 17, 2018 | English (Second Language)

8 Online Grammar Checker Tools Sent Back from the Future

You probably already know that grammar checkers have come a long way in terms of coverage and eliminating pesky false-alarms. I previously highlighted 10 benefits of using such a grammar checker, the Virtual Writing Tutor, with students. This follow-up article focuses on an additional 8 fresh new learning tools, which seem to have been sent back from the future. It is impressive what a little artificial intelligence can now do for ESL learners. Here is a short list that is sure to contain at least a few surprises.

1.      Generate an instant curriculum

Of the 9000 error detection rules in the Virtual Writing Tutor’s database, about 3000 also have links to additional resources. When a learner who has a free membership makes an error, the system stores the submitted text, the feedback and links on the “Feedback” page linked to that user’s profile. Clicking these links takes the learner to pages I have created that give further information about each error type, examples, videos and remedial activities.

After signing up for a free profile, users can access a Feedback page. Clickable links, provide information on the learner’s frequent errors.

2.      Go paperless with PDFs

Although the Virtual Writing Tutor was originally created to give feedback directly to students, teachers can now create and send a PDF containing corrective feedback to their students. This allows the teacher a chance to review and validate the feedback before the student receives it.

After signing in, the teacher pastes a student's text into the text area and hits “Check Grammar.” While reviewing the feedback, the teacher can click the "Hide" button next to a false alarm, which removes the suggestion and flags the offending error detection rule for review by the website development team.

Next, the teacher clicks on the “Comment and send a PDF” button to add spoken and written comments. (Read about the benefits of "voice of the reader" spoken comments here.) Audio-recorded comments are uploaded and embedded into the PDF. The teacher can then send a link to the PDF to the student. The PDF is stored on the teacher's private “Feedback” page until deleted.

Teachers can also create a PDF including automatically generated written feedback as well as recorded comments.

3.      Give feedback in 70 languages

Not all our students speak English well enough to understand corrective feedback provided exclusively in English. The Virtual Writing Tutor can translate its feedback into your choice of 70 different languages.

Feedback can be presented in 70 languages using integrated automatic translation.

4.      Demand better pronunciation and get it

The Virtual Writing Tutor offers a practical answer to pronunciation-related questions by providing a text-to-speech button. Students can enter any text, listen to a computerized pronunciation model or download it to prepare themselves for their oral presentation. Teachers need only show students how to use the Virtual Writing Tutor to get an error-free model to imitate and ask students to eliminate their pronunciation errors.

A text-to-speech function allows students to listen to a North-American pronunciation model, and download it in MP3 format.

5.      Provide hands-free writing tasks for students with mobility problems

Not only can the Virtual Writing Tutor read a text aloud to assist students with their pronunciation, it can also use automatic speech recognition to convert what they say into text. Using Chrome, click on the microphone icon to activate the speech recognition system and start talking. Say the name of the punctuation mark if you want to insert punctuation into your text. Slow typists and students with mobility issues will find this feature particularly liberating.

6.      Help students create essay outlines fast

It has always struck me that instead of spending valuable class time training students on the ins-and-outs of outlining, it is a whole lot easier and faster simply to provide students with a form to fill out that generates an outline for them. The students learn by doing, and the system does the teaching for you. I have added an essay outlining tool to the Virtual Writing Tutor. You can find it by click “Essay outliner” on the tool bar below the text area.

The essay outlining tool prompts students to answer precise questions and generates an outline based on their answers.

7.      Stop plagiarism by effectively teaching paraphrasing

It recently occurred to me that students don’t want to plagiarize. They do so because nobody has adequately shown them how to paraphrase. That’s why I built a paraphrase checker into the Virtual Writing Tutor. Students enter their paraphrase along with the original, and the system compares the 2, underlining similarities and scoring it for originality. Watch a short demonstration:

8.      Create hypertext narratives

The most exciting new feature on the Virtual Writing Tutor is the HyperText Narrative (HTN) authoring module. It is guaranteed to excite the imagination of college ESL students, providing them with one of the most engaging writing experiences of their lives. In short, an HTN is a branching hyperlinked story with multiple endings, reminiscent of the Choose Your Own Adventure series made popular in the 1980s and 1990s. By writing an HTN, students practise thinking in concrete ways how choices could play out in their own futures and employ field-related vocabulary and concepts in the process. See the Hypertext Narrative Tutorial on YouTube below to learn more:

How to Use the Hypertext Narrative Creator on the Virtual Writing Tutor (video tutorial)

Conclusion

With exciting new tools to engage students, college ESL teachers now have even more reasons to integrate the Virtual Writing Tutor into their pedagogy. Which feature interests you the most? Want more? Stay tuned for the new Pen Pal Exchange feature coming in the summer of 2018.

About the Author

Nicholas Walker He is a tenured ESL teacher at Ahuntsic College in Montreal. He earned a B.A. in English Literature (1995), a TESL Certificate (2002), and an M.A. in Applied Linguistics (2009) from Concordia University. He taught for 5 years in South Korea. In June 2017, TESL Canada awarded his Actively Engaged Series of textbooks the TESL Innovation Award. In November 2017, the Minister of Heritage Canada, the Honorable Melanie Joly, presented him with a Sesquicentennial Pin Award for Leadership in Education. Nicholas currently serves on the ESL Coordination Subcommittee.

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