Helping Elementary Students As They Use Digital Writing Prompts – Digital Writing, Digital Teaching

In this article in Language Arts, Holly Marich (a professional development coordinator in Nevada) and Troy Hicks (Central Michigan University) suggest ways that elementary school teachers can help students get the most out of word processing tools like spell checker, autocorrection, predictive text, and automatic word processor grammar -Feedback and voice dictation.

NOTE: Courtesy and thanks to Kim Marshall of “The Marshall Memo,” using a summary of my last article Holly Marich is shared here.

In this article in Language art,. “Many educators criticize digital technology as an unnecessary distraction or even as a sophisticated form of fraud,” say Marich and Hicks. “But it’s important to recognize that the choices these tools have to make compel writers to face the matter, both for writers and writing teachers.”

Marich spent time in a second grade where the teacher regularly gave students the opportunity to write two sentences on the class’s Twitter account, what they were learning, why they were learning, how they would use the information, and what questions they were asking wanted questions. The teacher checked students’ tweets before they were posted and conducted individual mini-lessons on usage and content as they were distributed. Marich observed a number of “micro-moments” when students received digital feedback on their tweets. Four examples:

  • A student has started to write this and inserted the prediction function the. The boy erased the whole word and took a few moments to type correctly this and completed his sentence. He needed help to get the predictive text suggested faster.
  • One student decided to use the iPad’s speech recognition (he had learned it on his grandmother’s computer) and quickly found the correct spelling of the word giraffe. Some students may bring sophisticated knowledge to the class and teachers are required to teach when allowed and appropriate.
  • A schoolgirl misspelled a word in her tweet, got the correct spelling from Marich and then decided to ignore at least one incorrect text prompt – peas Per piece. This student needed more guidance from the teacher in spotting words that the prediction function suggested incorrectly.
  • A student spells out lizard wrong – first listed, then liserd – and spent several minutes thinking about possible words to finally find the right one. In doing so, she thought creatively about her reptile project.

Marich and Hicks acknowledge that it is impossible for a teacher to look over the shoulder of every student and make suggestions to everyone in a timely manner. But teachers can give students some general wisdom when digital tools pop up as they write, encouraging them to ask themselves:

  • What do I know about the suggested tone or letter?
  • Do I like this choice of words?
  • Do I agree with this suggestion?
  • As an author, what do I plan to do with this information?

“These are real dialogues with students that help them think deeply about their work as digital writers and the relationship they have with their devices,” say Marich and Hicks. “Before we just click on automated suggestions or corrections without thinking, we need to help our students pause to question the algorithms that affect them. In this way, we teach them to be critical, creative, and persistent writers and problem solvers, one micro-moment at a time. “

“Writerly Decisions in Micro-Moments of Composition: Digital Tools and Instructional Opportunities for Elementary Writers” by Holly Marich and Troy Hicks in Language artJuly 2021 (Vol. 98, # 6, pp. 330-339); the authors can be reached at and

Permission to share this summary was given by Kim Marshall. Please request further permits by emailing him at send.

Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages. CC BY-NC 4.0

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