Write & Improve – by Philip Kerr

Developed by Professor Ted Briscoe and his team from the University of Cambridge in partnership with Cambridge English, Write & Improve is a free service for learners of English to practise their written English. Students submit their written work and receive feedback in seconds, covering spelling, vocabulary, grammar and general style. It marks the writing with a Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) level, and allows students to submit multiple drafts so they can see their progress. The service is not completely new, but a new user interface and improved functions (there are now three levels, for example) has transformed the earlier Beta version.

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Unlike the previous version, the range of writing tasks that can be evaluated is relatively limited, but this can be expected to grow. The limitation is due to the need to train the software on particular tasks: the evaluation and identification of errors is much more accurate on pre-trained tasks than on random topics. Here are the current tasks for the Beginners and Intermediate levels.

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The process is simple. Students click on a task and type in their answers. As an example, here is the first task for the Beginners level, along with a submitted piece of writing.

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Click on ‘Check’ and the feedback is returned in seconds. This particular piece of work was evaluated as being between A1 and A2.

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The overall evaluation is generally more accurate than the identification of particular errors, and my experience is that it works better at higher levels. The accuracy of both will improve as more people interact with the system, because each interaction will act as training data for the software.

The example above shows the limitations of the software, but this is a space worth watching and, even now, worth trying out with your students.

Philip Kerr is a teacher trainer and ELT materials writer. His books include the coursebook series Straightforward and Inside Out, and Translation and Own-Language Activities (CUP, 2014).

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