Saturday, June 3, 2017

Self-Editing Tools for Student Writing in Google Docs

One of the best features of Google Docs is the ability to share your work with others so they can offer comments and suggestions. As awesome as that is, sometimes a student may not have another person available to provide feedback, and will need to do the editing on their own.

Thankfully there are loads of useful tools that can help students to self-edit their writing, including text-to-speech, grammar checkers, dictionaries, and more. With these resources students can take ownership of the editing process to improve their writing. Even if they can also receive peer feedback, these tools can help student do a majority of the editing on their own.

See below for an overview of each of these tools, how to access and use them, and how they can assist students in the self-editing process.


Self-Editing Tools

In this blog post we will look at four main areas of self-editing tools that students can use when writing in Google Docs. They are:
  1. Speech-to-Text
  2. Text-to-Speech
  3. Grammar Checkers
  4. Thesaurus Tools


Tool #1: Speech-to-Text

A great way to avoid needing to make corrections to your writing, is to make sure the writing is correct in the first place. This can be a challenge for students who may struggle with typing or spelling. This could be especially true for younger students still learning these skills.

Thankfully Google Docs can provide help in this area with its built in speech-to-text feature called "Voice Typing". With this tool, students can simply speak to Google Docs and have all of their words typed for them. This can help reduce misspellings, as well as encourage students to get all of their thoughts out, rather than choosing simpler words or shorter sentences.

Here's how to use the Voice Typing feature:

  • With your Google Document open, place the cursor where you want to insert your spoken text.
  • Click "Tools" then "Voice Typing".
  • The Voice Typing tool will now open.
  • When ready, click the microphone button to begin speaking.
  • If it is your first time using the tool you may have to grant permission for the tool to access your microphone.
  • Now as you speak, Docs will type out what it hears you saying.
  • Click the microphone button again to turn off Voice Typing.



Tool #2: Text-to-Speech

Just as useful as speech-to-text is, the reverse is also helpful. One of the most beneficial tasks a student can do when reviewing their writing is to hear their document read aloud to them. When a student reads their own work, they are likely to miss errors, since our minds often fill in what we think should be there, not what is really there.

Having a text-to-speech tool read the document aloud provides an accurate rendition of what was really written, helping the student catch incorrect terms, accidentally repeated words, and sections that do not flow well.

There are lots of text-to-speech tools, but one of the best for Google Docs is Texthelp's Read&Write for Google Chrome. This is a free Chrome web extension they provides a new toolbar in Google Docs with a collection of new features.

Note: There is a paid version of Read&Write that includes some additional premium tools, but for text-to-speech the free version works perfectly fine.

Here's how to install and use Read&Write for self-editing:

  • Install the Read&Write extension - Chrome Web Store link
  • When you open your Google Document, you will now have an "RW" tab which you can click to pull down the Read&Write toolbar.
  • To have your document text read aloud, simply click the "Play" button on the toolbar.
  • If you just want a portion of the document read aloud, highlight that desired text first, then click the play button.


  • You can also adjust the voice that is used for the text-to-speech.
  • Click the gear icon on the right side of the Read&Write toolbar to open the "Settings" window.
  • From the "Voice" menu you can choose a different voice with options for gender and nationality.
  • You can also adjust the "Speed" slider to change the reading rate.
  • Click "OK" when done.



Tool #3: Grammar Checkers

The next collection of resources all function as grammar check tools. In each case, the tool will somehow scan through your document, and then provide you with feedback including such info as incorrect words, sentence length, lexile level, and more. Although all of the tools have similarities, each has its own special features, so students should experiment with each to find the one (or ones) they prefer when self-editing.


WriQ Add-on for Google Docs

  • WriQ is an add-on for Google Docs so it will need to be installed through the "Add-ons" menu, or directly through this link: Google Docs Add-on link
  • Once installed, you can run WriQ by clicking "Add-ons" then "WriQ" then "Show WriQ".
  • Note: The first time you use WriQ, you will need to go through a brief registration process.
  • With the WriQ add-on open, you will now click the "Score this document" button to scan your current Google Doc.


  • You will then get a pop-up window with a color-coded overview of the writing. Words in green are ok, while other colors indicate possible issues with grammar, punctuation, or spelling.
  • If you hover over the potential errors, you will get a pop-up explanation of the suspected problem.
  • The WriQ report will also give basic statistics for the document such as word count.
  • When done click "Close" to exit.


SAS Writing ReviserAdd-on for Google Docs

  • SAS Writing Reviser is an add-on for Google Docs so it will need to be installed through the "Add-ons" menu, or directly through this link: Google Docs Add-on link 
  • Once installed, you can run SAS Writing Reviser by clicking "Add-ons" then "SAS Writing Reviser" then "Open Writing Reviser".
  • Note: The first time you use SAS Writing Reviser, you will need to go through a brief registration process. Anyone under 18 years of age (so all K-12 students) will need to enter a parent's email address to get approval to use the tool.
  • With SAS Writing Reviser open, you can now choose from 25 different tests that will check over your document.
  • These include tests in sentence economy, sentence variety, sentence power, sentence clarity, and more.
  • When you run a test it will highlight any matching words in your document that may need attention.
  • The add-on will also provide you with explanations, examples, and suggestions for correcting the type of error found.




Hemingway App Website

  • The Hemingway App is a website which can be accessed at: http://hemingwayapp.com/
  • Once on the site, you will want to delete the preloaded default text, and then copy and paste in your writing.


  • The Hemingway App site will now color-code your text for any possible problems it discovers. This includes adverbs, passive voice, phrases with simpler alternatives, and sentences that are difficult to read.
  • The site will also provide some basic stats for the writing, including grade level readability, word count, and such.


Analyze My Writing Website

  • Analyze My Writing is a website which can be accessed at: http://www.analyzemywriting.com/
  • Once there you will want to copy and paste your writing into the text box.


Next, you can click on any of the buttons below your writing, then click "Analyze Text" to run those various checks as described below.

  • Basic Text Statistics - Including word, sentence, syllable, and character count in numeric forms as well as in bar graphs.


  • Common Words and Phrases - Listing the 50 most common words in the document with statistics and a word cloud.


  • Readability - Grade level readability for the text using several different measures.


  • Passive Voice - Listing sentences that look like they may use passive voice rather than active voice.


Slick Write Website

  • Slick Write is a website which can be accessed at: http://www.slickwrite.com
  • When you get to the site, click the "Start Writing" button to begin.
  • You can now paste in your document text.
  • Next click the "Check" button to have Slick Write scan your writing.


  • You can adjust what Slick Write scans for by clicking the "Settings" option (gear icon on the left).
  • Here you can check and un-check a wide range of items to search for.
  • When done, click the "Check" button again to re-run the scan.
  • In addition, Slick Write also provide basic stats for your document, as well as more advanced data on repeated phrases and word frequencies.


Tool #4: Thesaurus Tools

Based upon the tools listed above, you may find that you need to change some of the words in your writing. Perhaps you are relying too heavily on adverbs and need to use stronger verbs and adjectives. Or you may discover that you are using the same words too often and need to insert some variety. One way to do this is with a thesaurus tool. Below are two options.

Google Docs Define Feature

The "Define" tool is a feature built right into Google Docs that can be used to get definitions and synonyms for a chosen word. Here's how it works:


  • Highlight the word you want to find synonyms for.
  • Right-click on the word to get a pop-up menu.
  • Choose "Define" from the pop-up menu.
  • You will now get the "Dictionary" panel on the side that will list the definition, as well as any similar words.
  • You may choose to type in one of the synonyms in place of your original word.



Writefull Thesaurus Add-on for Google Docs


  • Writefull Thesaurus is an add-on for Google Docs so it will need to be installed through the "Add-ons" menu, or directly through this link: Google Docs Add-on link 
  • Once installed, you can run it by clicking "Add-ons" then "Writefull Thesaurus" then "Open".
  • When the panel opens, you can now type in a word, or paste in a selected word from your document.
  • The add-on will list synonyms for the word in order of similarity.
  • You can click "Paste" next to any of the suggested words to insert it into your document in place of the original word.



Conclusion

Out of the many tools listed above, hopefully some will be a good fit for each of your students. These self-editing tools can serve as one more piece in the writing process, alongside peer feedback and your comments as a teacher.

Beyond these, there are certainly many other add-ons, websites, extensions, and such to help students correct their writing. If you know of other useful self-editing tools, please consider sharing them in the comments below.


Post by Eric Curts. Bring me to your school, organization, or conference with over 50 PD sessions to choose from. Connect with me on Twitter at twitter.com/ericcurts and on Google+ at plus.google.com/+EricCurts1

3 comments:

  1. Great post Eric. This year I have dabbled with ProWritingAid, a paid add-on that allows you to gain feedback within Docs. Other than that, I like the Grammarly add-on too. I think the reality is that neither are perfect and just provide feedback to be considered, rather than simply accepted.

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    1. So true. Unfortunately, with these types of tools I often find that the editing that they suggest are "wrong", which obviously doesn't "improve" student work. The best is still good old-fashioned teacher editing and commenting. I have tried both Prowritingaid and Grammarly.

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  2. Thank you for such great suggestions! :)

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