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TESOL Connections (April 2010)

by User Not Found | 11/09/2011


  • CALL: Internet Tools for Teaching ESL/EFL Academic Writing, by Joseph Heilman
  • Contributing to the TESOL Community: Hong Wang

    Association News
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    Effective Second Language Writing
    Read the first issue of TESOL Journal: your newest member benefit
  • 2011 Annual Convention and Exhibit Call for Proposals

  • The Peace Corps receives the TESOL President's Award


  • TRC Featured Resource: TESOL 2009 James E. Alatis Plenary: Jack C. Richards

    Soliya's Connect Program: global web-conferencing

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    TESOL Connections Archives (members only)


    CALL: Internet Tools for Teaching

    ESL/EFL Academic Writing download to PDF

    By Joseph Heilman

    University of Digital Content, Tokyo, Japan

    Teaching academic writing to ESL/EFL learners presents many challenges to the educator. Differences in writing styles, cultural perspectives on the rules governing writing, and learners’ current level of English writing ability are just a few of the issues faced when developing learners’ skills. For academic writing instructors, or any instructor for that matter, having a large collection of activities or tools to pull from in any given course is essential. In this article, I proffer some ideas to add to your arsenals. Some readers may find that they already use some of the suggested activities or tools, but I hope to provide those readers with a new perspective on them, and with any luck, I will provide most of you with new things to try.


    A majority of what ESL/EFL learners find in their college or university library is, at least initially, inaccessible, as it is written for a native-English-speaking, academic audience and would take most ESL/EFL learners hours to plod through with a very low level of comprehension. Therefore, the Internet is a good place to start for the ESL/EFL writing instructor. It has a myriad of resources for their learners. Plus, most of what is written for the Web is written for a broader audience, which makes it more easily understood. In fact, as any search regarding writing Web content will show, when writing for the Web, one of the most important things for a writer to do is to keep it simple.

    The Internet provides an excellent opportunity for students to learn how to identify which sources are credible and which are not by means of compare-contrast activities. In working with students on research papers, it can be surprising to see what they regard as a credible reference for their papers. Blogs, gossip columns, and a variety of “answer” columns are frequently seen as reliable sources of information. One way an instructor can help students to better comprehend what constitutes reliable information is to ask them to research a given topic on the Web, and then examine a credible reference versus a noncredible one. Instructors can initially guide learners through this process by presenting a well-referenced page created by an expert on the topic and then comparing it with another Web page on the same topic written by someone anonymous. After presenting and explaining the difference in validity between the two Web pages, instructors may then ask the students to do this on their own. The activity prompt would ask students to pick a topic of interest and research it on the Web. Students should identify both reliable and unreliable sources, and then review these with the instructor. As part of the review process, the instructor should help students establish criteria for what constitutes credible information. Then, instructors can discuss degrees of reliability, contrasting sources such as a newspaper article (a daily periodical) and an academic article (a quarterly periodical). Bias in writing can also be taught using this compare-contrast technique. Instructors can demonstrate how different Web sites present information differently based on their beliefs concerning a particular issue.


    When mentioning simple, I should discuss the benefits of the Simple English section of Wikipedia. The articles in this section of Wikipedia are written for young learners, people whose first language is not English, or people with learning difficulties. Wikipedia asks that authors writing for the Simple English section write their articles using mainly the Basic English 850 word list. There are a number of ways this resource can be used. If instructors are having students write summaries, they can ask them to upload their summaries to this section of Wikipedia. If the content already exists on Wikipedia, instructors can ask students to provide additional information for the entry. Instructors can also ask students to write descriptive essays on aspects of their culture and publish them here. This kind of activity has the added benefit of taking students’ writing beyond the classroom. Usually, instructors have students turn their papers in for correction and feedback, and instructors return the papers to the students where they are most likely quickly forgotten. This can be remedied by asking students to write papers for publication to Wikipedia, where the papers take on a greater significance because they are made available for the world to read. It has been my experience that when students write with the knowledge that their writing will be published to the Web, they take greater care in their writing and more pride in ownership once it has been published.

    Another way to use Wikipedia for educating ESL/EFL writing students is through providing references for existing articles, or “cleaning up” Wikipedia. In my work as an academic writing instructor, I have found that citation is a skill that a majority of my learners lack. Yet, the ability to appropriately cite sources is mandatory for academic writing in English. There are serious repercussions for writers who do not cite their sources or misrepresent someone else’s writing as their own. Therefore, it is a must that ESL/EFL students become proficient in citing their references, and Wikipedia provides them with an excellent opportunity to do so. Because the writing is already done for them, all they need to do is find a source that supports the writing and include that in the existing writing and provide a reference for the source. I have the students provide the original version of the article along with their revised version and score them on the accuracy of their in-text citation and the format of their reference list. Instructors can have students practice different forms of citation such as APA or MLA.

    For instructors who work at institutions that lack online systems for assigning writing tasks to students, tracking the tasks completed, and providing computer-automated or computer-assisted analysis of the writing, there is a useful system created by the Educational Testing Service (ETS) called Criterion. This system has all of the previously mentioned functions. It also allows instructors to assign leveled essays to their students, or write their own tasks for students and then have the papers analyzed by the system. The system checks students’ writing for grammar, style, and idea development, among other things. Students can view sample essays to assist them in their own writing, and instructors can provide feedback directly through the system, which students can refer to for each revision they make to their essay. The holistic scoring is not perfect, but use of the system is very reasonable (currently use of the system costs 1,000 yen per year for students in Japan, approximately 10 U.S. dollars), and it makes managing a writing course much easier for instructors, especially those handling a large number of students. Students access their accounts through the Internet; therefore, writing work can be completed on students’ personal computers or in a computer lab if available. Also, because the system is developed by ETS, it helps in developing students’ ability to write under timed conditions and to write to specific question types such as those found on standardized tests like the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), which is published by ETS.


    In conclusion, it is important for ESL/EFL writing instructors to make the material we teach as accessible as possible for students. The Web provides an excellent starting point for us and our students because of the level of writing that most sites utilize in presenting information. Plus, the Web allows students to readily make comparisons of writing and see their writing made available for a global audience. I hope that the ideas I have provided here will benefit instructors in their courses and assist with the development of their own Web-based activities for ESL/EFL writing classes.


    ETS Criterion. (2009). Educational Testing Service, NPO. Retrieved December 15, 2009, from

    Wikipedia: The free encyclopedia. (2004, July 22). Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. Retrieved December 15, 2009, from

    Joseph Heilman is the assistant director of the English program at the University of Digital Content in Tokyo, Japan. He currently teaches content-based and academic skills courses including writing, debate, and speech. His research interests include teacher affect on motivation, project work, and CALL.

    This article first appeared in the Second Language Writing Interest Section Newsletter, March 2010, Volume 5, Number 1. To read the entire newsletter, click here.


    Contributing to the TESOL Community: download to PDF

    My Experiences as a Leadership

    Mentoring Program Award Recipient

    by Hong Wang

    Mount Saint Vincent University, Canada

    My first time participating at the TESOL convention was in 1999 in New York, but for many years after that my commitment as a graduate student did not allow me to be actively involved in the association. My tenure-track appointment in TESL at a Canadian university encouraged me to find myself an academic home where I could share my experience as a language teacher and language teacher educator within a wider community. After I learned about the TESOL Leadership Mentoring Program (LMP), I felt a strong need to participate. Being the only full-time TESL educator in my faculty, I felt that such a program would help me develop a mentoring relationship with a TESOL leader who could guide me in my teaching and research endeavors, and to whom I could turn for help on other professional issues. Moreover, I hoped to collaborate with my mentor on projects of mutual interest and to also be actively engaged with them in the activities of the ESL academic community.

    As one of the three recipients of the LMP Award, I participated in the Leadership Development Certificate Program at the Denver Convention in 2009. Through workshops and seminars, I obtained a general overview of the TESOL association: its advocacy, policy, governance, strategic planning, and leadership. This training greatly helped me develop my skills toward becoming a leader in the ESL/EFL community, and helped me develop networks within the TESOL association. I also attended the annual meeting of the EFL IS and discussed issues and concerns with the IS leaders and members, which strengthened my ties with this community. Moreover, one of the gains from this program was the opportunity to work with my mentor, Professor Donna Fujimoto from Osaka Jogakuin College in Japan. Donna is a respected scholar and an expert in intercultural education, and she gave me tremendous help during the 2009 Denver Convention, introducing me to many researchers, teachers, and administrators in the field. We sent a joint proposal to TESOL on the cultural competence of nonnative English speaking teacher candidates, which was accepted for presentation in Boston.

    Having benefited so much from the LMP, I feel that it is time for me to contribute what I have learned to the TESOL community. Therefore, I applied for the Chair-Elect position of the EFL IS in February 2010, and was accepted. I will work closely and collaboratively with the current leaders and my fellow IS members, continue to promote the professional growth of our IS, and further pursue the goals that we as a community set. As a young scholar and a new leader in the TESOL association, I believe that leadership is very important not only because it provides me with an opportunity to organize and motivate a group of people with a common goal to achieve our potential, but also because it can increase my skills with relation to communication, coaching, time management, and multi-tasking. All these skills are crucial for us in the workplace.

    I recommend to my colleagues and future leaders to get involved in the IS community. We can start participating by identifying our interests, attending annual IS meetings, meeting the leaders and members at the convention, and volunteering in the IS activities both at the convention and throughout the year. I am sure that all these activities will be valuable to our personal as well as professional development in TESOL .