We have compiled these exercises and classroom activities to encourage students to become more self-reflective, confident, and critical writers when using grammar- and style-checking tools.

Some exercises have been designed with a specific tool in mind, while others are more generic. Most can be adapted for use with any other writing tool, as long as the two tools fulfil similar functions (e.g., both correct grammatical mistakes, or edit for readability or style). Some activities may work better as individual student tasks; others as small group exercises, or even class-wide discussions. Again, feel free to adapt the format to match your needs.

While we created most of these activities ourselves, we also borrowed some suggestions from other teachers and scholars of writing who were happy to share their ideas. You should also encourage your students to freely experiment with these tools as a way of learning about each tool’s capacities and limitations. See our Experiments for inspiration! 

Microsoft Word grammar checker (MSGC)

Click here to download our exercises for the MSGC in a .pdf format.


Learning to correct spelling & grammar mistakes without the MSGC

Teach your students to first write and edit with the MSGC disabled. Afterwards, allow them to compare their corrections (or their peers’ corrections) with those identified by the MSGC. Warn your students in advance about the limitations of the spelling and grammar checker. Discuss any disparities between what the student/peer/tutor thinks about an alleged mistake and what the MSGC says.

Becoming aware of reliance on auto-correct and real-time editing

Have your students type up a small assignment while the MSGC is turned off. Tell them they are not allowed to edit while typing (so no using the Backspace/’Delete button!). Follow this exercise with a discussion of the difficulties encountered.
Additionally, you might ask the students to write an assignment by hand (without the use of any digital devices). Follow that with a discussion of how different writing instruments affect the processes of thinking and composing.

Engaging MS Word in creative writing experiments

Encourage your students to experiment with MS Word as the platform for writing. Do this by asking them to use MS Word for composing a text that does not fit the standard template of writing, e.g., concrete poetry or fictional SMS message exchanges between themselves and their peers or family. Ask them to reflect on how MS Word’s writing environment (created predominantly for business communication) constrains or otherwise affects more creative and informal kinds of writing.

Exploring the relationship between form and content

Provoke your students’ thinking about the relationship between design and text, or form and content by asking them to pay attention to the templates offered by MS Word. How do the former affect the latter?
As an experiment, show them a badly written complaint letter that has been created using an MS Word template for formal letters. Ask them what’s wrong with the letter and whether it breaks any formal communication rules. They are likely to first spot small formatting errors (words written in all caps or misspelled words), while ignoring the inappropriate style and tone, and the messy structure of the letter.

Questioning the authority behind MSGC rules

Encourage your students to question the rules of style, grammar and convention, and the origins and sustainability of prescriptivism in language. Ask them what constitutes authority in language learning, and whether a tool like the MSGC is authoritative.
Discuss what the phrase “standard English” might encompass: who created it; whom does it serve; and how justifiable is its dominance in the context of the contemporary English-speaking world (Behrens et al)?

Using readability function for revision

Carl Whitman recommends investigating MS Word readability scores as a way of prompting revision at the sentence or paragraph level. To see if shorter words and sentences really result in a more readable text, Norman Otto Stockmeyer also advises putting the readability function to test. Encourage your students to perform similar experiments with texts of various types.

Rethinking language conventions with MS Word

Activity suggested by Alex Vernon in his article “Computerized Grammar Checkers 2000″:
Observe “the inextricable link of the programs’ checking options with certain styles of writing.” Discuss “how rhetorical context determines grammar and style expectations and standards” and how “these language practices and standards aren’t absolute.” Discuss “what styles the word-processing software of our choice employs, the checking options it considers appropriate for that style, and the implications thereof.” Let students “challeng[e] the assumption of a universal student/academic discourse – as if the conventions of business communication and poetry explication are the same…”
(Re-published with the author’s permission)

Revising and editing with MSGC (multiple ways to experiment and explore)

Activities suggested by Alex Vernon in his article “Computerized Grammar Checkers 2000″:  

  • “Ask students to brainstorm other possible checking options, other styles, and the checking options appropriate for that style.
  • Have students, either individually or in small groups, articulate responses to program feedback to their own writing. Students could present their responses either in writing (in a separate document, or in annotations) or orally. Having students work together especially helps students decipher incorrect and misleading program feedback.
  • Task students to run Grammar-as-you-go on a completed text and – since the GAYG function simply underlines suspect constructions – to address the flagged items without accessing the checker’s feedback (by clicking the right mouse button). An improved sentence makes the underlining go away. This is a version […] for marking the text without identifying the problem, thereby teaching students to learn to edit themselves. It also avoids the confusion of misleading feedback altogether.
  • Focus on a particular issue by having students check their papers with only one checking option (or several options that look for the same essential issue), as described with “wordiness” above. Increase the number of issues checked as the semester progresses.
  • Ask students to write “bad” sentences, either to successfully trigger the checker or fool it.
  • Hold contests, pitting human checkers against one another and against the computer.
  • Have the computer and the students independently search for subject-verb agreement errors.
  • Compare the rules of the grammar checker with the discussions of the same issues in your writing handbook. If you choose an issue on which the sources disagree, you have instantly challenged any monolithic sense of language use students might possess, and have taken a solid step toward enabling students to analyze the rules, the rhetorical situation of their writing, and deciding for themselves (not to mention just getting the handbook off the shelf).”
(Re-published with the author’s permission.)


Investigating MS Word features

These activities, used by Tim McGee and Patricia Ericsson and recounted in their 2002 article “The politics of the program: ms word as the invisible grammarian,” can be adapted to suit the current versions of MS Word:
“If teachers are confident that the software can’t really be broken (and it can’t—Microsoft has made sure of that), then we can feel free to ask students to help us investigate it. Whatever age students we teach, many know more about playing with computers than we do, and they are usually more eager to do it. We can ask them to look at the options that the MSGC offers. Once they are inside the software, we can encourage questions about the various grammar, usage, and style choices that Microsoft offers. We think that more than a few students will notice that under the ‘Formal’ option in word 97, the checker has all but three possibilities turned on—and one possibility that is not on is to check for gender-specific words. If we ask them to check into the explanations of the grammar and style options, they can check to see if their notions of ‘Commonly confused words’ match up with the ones Microsoft provides.”

(Re-published with the authors’ permission)


Click here to download these exercises for Grammarly in a .pdf format.

Testing Grammarly’s contextual editing (Version 1)

Ask your students to feed a piece of text through Grammarly three times, each time setting slightly different goals for writing (i.e., changing the intent, audience, style, emotion and domain in the settings). Ask them to compare the different (if at all) corrections that the grammar and style checker suggests in each instance.
Aside from evaluating the tool’s capacity for contextual editing, encourage the students to discuss how the context of writing changes what is seen as a grammatical or stylistic mistake.

Trying out Grammarly’s contextual editing (Version 2)

The students should choose three different types of text (e.g., a poem, a blog post and a technical writing piece) and run a sample of each through Grammarly. Remember that before they do so, they have to set the writing goals for each text.
When choosing these goals, they can opt for the context that matches the chosen sample well, or they can deliberately apply the wrong criteria to each sample (e.g., choosing a highly opinionated journalistic piece as one with mild emotion, formal style, technical domain, expert audience, and intent of telling a story).
After receiving feedback, the students can work in pairs or in small groups to compare and discuss their findings. Aside from evaluating the tool’s capacity for contextual editing, encourage the students to think about how the context of writing changes what is seen as a grammatical or stylistic mistake.

Blindly following Grammarly’s suggestions 

Choose or produce a text sample with many grammatical, spelling and stylistic issues (but make sure it is still coherent). Instruct the students to run it through Grammarly, accepting every suggested correction. Working in pairs or small groups, the students should evaluate the edited text and identify any false positives, false negatives, and/or correctly noted errors that have been inappropriately corrected. The results could be shared with the rest of the class.



NB! Before asking your students to engage with the download-only Ginger Software, consider the Ethical Issues involved.
Click here to download the exercises for Ginger in a .pdf format.

Checking grammar with Ginger

A Ginger-edited text can be a great conversation-starter in the classroom. For this activity, the students should bring along a short piece of their writing and run it through Ginger editor. They can work in pairs or small groups to discuss and explain the tool’s suggested revisions. Students should discuss both the alleged error and the suggested correction(s). Encourage you students to view the tool’s suggestions “as focused invitations to consider revising their writing” because “within such a framework, tools like Ginger may be effective at increasing motivation and promoting learner autonomy…” (Swier).
Allot some time towards the end of the lesson for students to share the results with the class. Make sure you have the technical equipment that enables that activity (e.g., a document camera, a big screen, a way to connect student laptops to the system).

Learning to paraphrase

Use Ginger’s Paraphrase and Thesaurus functions as conversation starters for how to reword one’s ideas in writing. Working with a piece of text individually or in pairs, ask you students to explore the tool’s suggestions for paraphrasing their sentences or substituting words with synonyms. The aim is to get students to pay attention to the semantical, rhetorical and stylistic nuances of each chosen word or phrase, and to warn them against blindly choosing unfamiliar words with unknown connotations. The students should be able to explain their rephrasing choices. If the students have worked individually, they can then swap their revisions with a peer to get feedback on the changes they have made. This small activity can be used as a springboard to launch a class-wide discussion about discipline-specific vocabulary, clichés, and overused words, as well as one on the dangers of trying to sound “smart” by using jargon and less-known words. It can also be used to address the stylistic aspects of one’s writing, such as the effect of repetitive phrases or sentence structures on the overall readability and flow of writing.


NB! Before you use any of these activities in your class, make sure to introduce your students to ProWritingAid’s complex functionality and reports, explaining exactly how each function works and why it may, or may not, be useful to a writer.  

Click here to download these exercises in a .pdf format.


Noting repetition in one’s writing

Students can use ProWritingAid’s Overused Words Check, Repeats Check, and/or Echoes (Repeats Check) on short pieces of their own writing to notice any repetitions of words and phrases (especially those that result in repeated syntactic patterns). The students can then share their insights within smaller peer groups or with the rest of the class. Ask the students to identify and discuss the rhetorical and stylistic benefits and drawbacks of using repetition. If necessary, they can continue individual work and revise their texts as they see fit.  


Evaluating one’s writing with Summary Report and peer review

Instruct your students to run a substantial piece of their writing (e.g., a draft essay) through ProWritingAid’s text editor. Click on “summary” to view a comprehensive report. Aside from statistical data and other metrics on the text, the report provides grammatical and stylistic suggestions for improving readability and argumentative strength. Have your students carefully read the report and figure out what new insights emerge. Students can work first individually at first and then in pairs, swapping and discussing their pieces of writing and the summary reports generated by the tool.  

The Hemingway Editor/App

Click here to download these exercises in a .pdf format.


Learning to be more assertive in writing (Version 1)

Ask your students to prepare a short piece of argumentative writing (it could be their draft to an upcoming essay, a brief opinion piece from an online discussion thread, etc.) and share it with a peer. Instruct the students to use The Hemingway App to identify modifiers and adverbs in their writing and have them follow the tool’s suggestions for getting rid of those. Students can then review one another’s revisions and discuss how the exercise has strengthened (or has not strengthened) their rhetoric, concision, clarity and style. Further, how has this activity changed the tone of the writing, the stance of the writer, and the readerly appeal? What has been gained and what has been lost as a result? This exercise can start as individual or pair work, and end as a class-wide discussion.  


Learning to be more assertive in writing (Version 2) 

Like The Writer’s Diet, The Hemingway App can be used efficiently to help students revise their drafts before peer review. The “wordier” writers among your students should follow the editor’s advice on eliminating some modifiers and adverbs in their writing, and limiting the use of passive voice. Those students who are confident in their writing could use the editor to focus on improving style (e.g., by varying their sentence length or structure to achieve a better flow).    


Evaluating “easy-to-read” and “difficult-to-read” writing

For this exercise, students can work in groups. The collective task for each group is to find one “well-written” piece of a “difficult-to-read” text (according to the Hemingway App), and one “badly written” but “easy-to-read” piece. The students should then discuss the editor’s evaluation of each piece, commenting on very specific aspects of writing that make each piece difficult or easy to understand. Aspects to discuss could include sentence length, word length, the use of adverbs, syntax, word choice, etc. At the same time, the students should also be asked to evaluate each piece according to their own understanding of what makes good writing (rhetoric, style, coherence and cohesion, etc.). Finally, give each group an opportunity to share their examples and findings with the rest of the class (make sure you have the document camera ready, or any other device that allows for easy sharing of digital content). It is a good idea to model the activity for the students first by showing them some contrasting examples (e.g., an excerpt from a well-written article in The New Yorker and a sample of Donald Trump’s tweets) so that they can sense the scope of differences in style.  


Exploring the role of adverbs and adjectives in writing

Use The Hemingway Editor as a conversation starter about the role of adverbs and adjectives in writing. What rhetorical and stylistic effect can they have (ask students to provide examples)? When are these words helpful and how? In which cases are they redundant (the students should again explain why)? Using adjectives and adverbs as a starting point, shift the discussion to the role of other parts of speech, such as nouns and verbs. Ask your students if they can come up with some active verbs and concrete nouns that make adverbs and adjectives unnecessary. Sometimes, an adverb can also be omitted by simply deleting it and replacing the adjective (e.g., substitute “very big” with “large”). After this activity, the students can move on to work with The Writer’s Diet (see below), which asks the writer to pay attention to similar issues (i.e. the over-reliance on specific types of adjectives/adverbs, and the use of weak verbs and abstract nouns).   


Noting rhythm and flow in writing

Encourage students to experiment with various rhythms in writing by playing with syntax and sentence length. They can use their own writing for this exercise (e.g., a draft to an upcoming essay or another assignment). What would happen if they rewrote their text to completely get rid of all the highlights made by The Hemingway App? Ask the students to shorten or split the highlighted sentences to please the editor. Your students can then share their results and insights with the rest of the class. Make sure you have the necessary technology (document cameras, big screens, etc.) set up for the purpose.  


Improving the readability of writing

Academic writing is often obscure, jargon-laden, and otherwise unnecessarily complicated. Students who are unaware of this tendency run the risk of imitating it as they learn to write in academic forums. The Hemingway Editor can help students undo the damage that might have been done by teaching them how to simplify writing without”‘dumbing it down.” But adverbs and adjectives should not be simply removed from writing, and more complex nouns should not be blindly replaced by ostensibly simpler synonyms. Instead, the work done by an adverb could be assumed by choosing a more precise verb. Warn the students about the dangers of simple but generic writing that says nothing: precision is another skill that students can develop while working with this tool. This activity might best be used before peer review.  


Assessing readability levels in various contexts and styles of writing

For this exercise, students work in groups to discuss how context (e.g., the purpose, target audience, medium and other contextual aspects) changes the expectations and conventions for readability. For example, what makes web content stylistically, linguistically, rhetorically, and practically different from an academic article, a literary essay, or a political speech? Use the Hemingway App’s insistence on “simple, bold writing” as a starting point to address the alleged conventions of different genres of writing.  

The Writer's Diet

NB! Because students typically misunderstand what The Writer’s Diet does and why, make sure to introduce them to the tool, its purpose, functionality, and the rules guiding its work before trying out any class activities. The tool’s Help page is a good place to start.
Click here to download these exercises in a .pdf format.

Reflecting on one’s own writing

Ask your students to feed a piece of their writing through The Writer’s Diet and to reflect on the result. What have they learned about their tendencies in writing? What psychological, pedagogical or rhetorical reasons might be behind their choices? Are these tendencies a weakness or a strength? In what contexts might they be weaknesses or strengths?
The purpose of this activity is to encourage self-reflection, not judgement. Some students might discover that they rely too much on adverbs and other modifiers because they lack the confidence to commit to clear statements. Others might find their writing is cluttered with abstract “waste words” (it, this, that, and there) because their thinking is still murky. Still others might notice how many prepositions they use because they think academic writing should be wordy and consist of long, convoluted sentences.

Learning about parts of speech (adverbs, adjectives)

Invite your students to use the test results (of their own or someone else’s prose) as a starting point for a discussion on the role of different parts of speech in writing (e.g., the function of adjectives and adverbs, and their co-relation with nouns and verbs). How does the genre, discipline and text type affect the use of these word groups? Does the writing topic also influence word choice? Students can work in groups to brainstorm and discuss, before sharing their ideas and examples with the rest of the class.

Using the tool in peer review to improve concision and clarity

Use The Writer’s Diet in the peer review process, focussing specifically on concision and clarity. Ideally, have each student’s draft reviewed by the tool as well as by another student. If there is time left at the end, ask some students to share the results of this task with the class.
Make sure that your students understand that simply removing the problematic word or replacing it with an equally abstract or redundant one is not a great solution. You may have to do a sample demonstration of such revision before the students can independently embark on this exercise.

Rethinking and challenging the conventions of academic writing

Ask your students what they think constitutes proper academic writing and whether it is the same as good writing? Does one exclude the other? Can proper academic prose that deals with complex and sometimes abstract ideas also be clear, concise, readable, and engaging? Let students work in small groups before sharing their insights with the rest of the class.
As a conversation starter, use The Writer’s Diet to run tests on writing samples from various disciplines, such as this sample from a proper academic article or an excerpt from one of The Bad Writing Contest winners. To continue the discussion, you may address the purpose and effect of jargon in various disciplines and in academia in general.

Exploring engaging writing

The Writer’s Diet can also be used to help students think about audience, readerly engagement, creativity and personal voice in various types of writing. What makes one text more engaging than another? Does engaging writing necessarily have to be simple and concise? For this discussion, ask students to bring a digital fragment (~500 words in length) from a favourite fiction or non-fiction text to class. Ask them to feed it through The Writer’s Diet and observe the result. Students can work individually at first and then in pairs or small groups to figure out what rules of engaging writing the author has observed or broken in each case, and to what effect.
In the second half of the lesson, students can present their case studies to the rest of the class.


Various tools

Click here to download these exercises in a .pdf format.

Testing a grammar checker on common punctuation mistakes (CS, ROS/FS, SF)

Ask your students to test the efficiency and accuracy of the chosen grammar checker by inputting the sentences below which contain common punctuation mistakes, such as run-on (ROS) or fused sentences (FS), sentence fragments (SF), and comma splices (CS).
    1. Travel is educational, it broadens your horizons.
    2. The current city policy on housing is incomplete as it stands. Which is why we believe the proposed amendments should be passed.
    3. There are many reasons to work here, the weather is lovely and the people are friendly.
    4. The small, one-page stories are all the same size and style. With no difference except the colour.
    5. Tim left his job he could not stand his boss.
    6. By paying too much attention to polls can make a political leader unwilling to propose innovative policies.
    7. Jarod had an interview with a television company, I might get a job as his assistant.
    8. She always recycles her bottles they are collected twice a month.
    9. John is always late for work, nobody seems to care.
    10. The magazine has a reputation for a sophisticated, prestigious, and elite group of readers. Although that is a value judgment and in circumstances not a true premise.
These sentences have been devised by the convenor of an undergraduate Workplace Communications course, to remind students about basic syntax and punctuation rules in formal/academic writing. You can download the exercise in MS Word format here.
To see how the Microsoft Word grammar checker (MSGC), Grammarly and Ginger dealt with correcting these mistakes, visit Experiments.

Exploring engaging writing with style checkers

The Writer’s Diet, The Hemingway Editor and ProWritingAid can all be used to help students think about audience, readerly engagement, creativity and personal voice in various types of writing.
What makes one text more engaging than another? Does engaging writing necessarily have to be simple and concise? For this discussion, ask students to bring a digital fragment from a favourite piece of fiction or non-fiction to class. Ask them to feed the text through either or all of the above mentioned tools to get some feedback on readability. Compare and discuss the results and their implications.

Modelling engagement with digital writing tools

These suggestions from Michael Milone are presented by Alex Vernon in his article “Computerized Grammar Checkers 2000″:


  • “Model the grammar checker editing process in front of the class via projection, and discuss why the computer flagged items, the teacher’s response to the program’s feedback, and the technical limitations of the program.
  • Have groups of two or three students analyse student texts and grammar checker feedback.
  • Have students enable only certain checking options to focus on particular kinds of error.”

(Re-published with the author’s permission)



Connecting the grammar checker to instruction

Activities suggested by Reva Potter & Dorothy Fuller in “My New Teaching Partner? Using the Grammar Checker in Writing Instruction”:

  • “We designed the four-month action research study to include direct instruction of the grammar checker and regular grammar instruction enhanced with use of grammar-check tools. Students first learned about the checker, its components and purposes, before beginning the agreed-on three gram- mar topics. Once into the units, lessons incorporated grammar check in a number of ways. Students composed or typed essays with the grammar-check tools turned off and on; they wrote sentences to ‘trigger’ grammar-check error identification; they compared terminology and rules of grammar from text resources with those on the computer checker; and they explored the readability statistics, which report sentence length and the grade level of their writing.”
  • “A favorite activity for the seventh graders was typing the textbook ‘pretest’ for the subject- verb agreement unit. Students then observed the grammar-check performance, reported their results, and hypothesized why the computer grammar checker may have missed or misdiagnosed an error. [… In] subsequent units students eagerly typed their assigned ‘pretest’ sentences, typed extra if they had time, and began hypothesizing at their individual computers about the accuracy of the grammar checker before the results were reported.”
  • “Another engaging use of the grammar check allowed students to personalize their grammar experience by creating original sentence examples to challenge the checker: practicing examples of active or passive voice, creating possible subject- verb agreement problems, and changing simple sentences to compound or complex. Students watched the computer screens as the checker ‘reacted’ to the sentences they created, and they compared and discussed the checker’s recommendations with their classmates.”

(First re-published with the authors’ permission in this blog post on teaching writing with digital tools)



Checking on the grammar checker

Activities recommended by Paul John, Nina Wolla, Mariane Gazaillea, and Walcir Cardosob in “Using grammar checkers to provide written corrective feedback”:

“… the teacher could prepare a paragraph with 12 errors, making sure that the grammar checker identifies a certain number of them (e.g., 8 errors correctly flagged). The students’ task would then be i) to provide explanations for what is wrong with the 8 identified errors, and ii) to identify the 4 errors that have escaped detection.

A more complex version of the activity could include instances where the grammar checker proposes one or more inaccurate corrections or where it triggers false alarms (correct forms mistakenly flagged as errors). In this case, the students’ task would be to correct the grammar checker’s mistakes. In their case, students would be developing analytic skills that should lead to greater metalinguistic awareness and accuracy.”

(Re-published with the authors’ permission)