OWLs and ESL Students

Suzan Moody, University of Kansas

The purpose of this review is to identify which on-line writing labs (OWLs) have resources specifically for English as a Second Language (ESL) students and what kinds of resources are available. Of the various OWLs on-line in the 1995 fall semester, eight OWLs offered specialized resources for ESL students. Not included in this review are

The OWLs that are included have resources, including links or handouts that provide information about grammatical structures, writing strategies, and reference materials.

Besides links to on-line dictionaries, information about writing modes, sample essays or letters, most of the resources provided by these eight OWLs center on grammar. Grammatical categories include articles ("the," "a," "an," and other determiners), verbs, prepositions, adjectives, adverbs, nouns (especially plural forms), possessives, pronouns, punctuation rules, sentence combining guides, and spelling guides. The amounts of information and level of difficulty vary for each OWL. Other OWLs that include similiar grammar guides like University of Victoria Writer's Guide were not included if they did not have ESL sources, but they do offer valuable grammatical help. Comparing the UVic Guide's explanation of verb agreement with Purdue's explanation of verb endings will show differences in how grammatical structures are explained to native and non-native English writers. These OWLs offer a variety of approaches for explaining English grammatical structures.

In choosing resources in OWLs, teachers should first consider students' previous computer experience. ESL students with limited computer experience may have difficulties with unfamiliar icons, hypertext, and navigation through the OWLs. OWLs should, then, be chosen on how clearly they are organized, how space is used, how logical the links are, and how resources are organized.

Teachers should also consider their students' English proficiency when choosing resources in OWLs. Many ESL students are able to use resources developed for native English speakers while others benefit more from resources developed for non-native English speakers. Areas to look at include the simplicity of explanations, vocabulary choices, sentence construction, and language used in example sentences or essays. For example, most of the OWLs in this review had resources to help ESL students master "the," "a," and "an." While these three words can be very difficult for ESL students to master, resources are written for different English proficiency levels. A more advanced ESL student may benefit from "An Overview of English Article Usage for Speakers of English as a Second Language" by John R. Kohl at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Kohl's explanation is a long, detailed look at articles. A less advanced ESL student may benefit more from Anthony Hughes' On-line English Grammar's section on definite and indefinite articles which has short sample sentences, simple vocabulary, and brief explanations.

In the following table, the eight OWLs with ESL resources are arranged alphabetically with a general description and evaluation of the types of resources offered at each site.

OWL Resources for ESL Students Comments
Bowling Green State University's Online Writing Lab (gopher based) ESL Notes a list of pages from the Allyn and Bacon Handbook - helpful only if using that book
25 Grammar Tips, "How-to"s and punctuation info some of these resources have problems with odd spacing and odd characters
An Elementary Grammar from The English Institute 24 sections examples with fairly simple sentences and vocabulary; visually a little confusing
Literacy Education Online "My native language is not English" section not a functioning link yet
other short sections with "comma splices," "fused sentences,"or "run-ons" and "complete sentences" nice graphics for sentence patterns
Purdue 12 ESL links (or a link to a page entitled English as a Second Language which includes directions) clearly written instructions
other general writing links: a good example is Non-Sexist Language under "General Writing Concerns." clearly written instructions on a topic that many ESL students have questions about
Rensselar Writing Center ESL: Use of Articles "A," "An" and "The" a detailed explanation of English articles
Ruth's Help Pages a number of Language Help files which include grammar and writing links extensive lists of ESL resources on the web
On-Line English Grammar English grammar is organized alphabetically and with a Table of Contents clearly presented information; written for an intermediate English level
English Grammar Clinic grammar questions are answered
University of Maine dictionaries and thesaruses a nice collection of languages
"English as a Second Language Resources" the resources aren't focused on writing; they include links for employment and ESL schools

The greatest number of existing ESL resources in these eight OWLs center on English grammar. Only half provide information on how to write essays, most of which was written for native English speakers. While these OWLs are useful resources for ESL students, more on-line writing resources should be developed for non-native English writers.

In order to update this list of OWLs with ESL resources, please send new URLs, comments, suggestions, and criticisms to Suzan Moody