As ESL teachers, we constantly want our students to write because writing is part of what we have to evaluate. The old method to have our students write is on a piece of paper. The thing is that writing on pieces of paper is not trendy nowadays. Our students’ generation tend to prefer to write on the computer, if not on Internet. Here is an original online tool for your students to practice their writing: Penzu.
Penzu is a tool that focuses mainly on creating an online journal or diary. The way it is formatted resembles a normal notepad. Before starting to use the tool, the user has to create an account. Once the account is created, the user can give a name to his journal/diary. By using Penzu the user can print his/her diary, save it, insert photos, share it (with people that are not necessarily members of Penzu), do any text formatting (just as in Word), comment, and adding a password for more privacy. Other features consists of adding tags to the entries to the journal, customizing it with colours, and exporting the journal to different types of files (e.g. pdf). The latter features are only available for the users that have upgraded their accounts for a fee of $19 per year. In order to create sections in the journal, the user has to click on “New Entry”. It automaticly creates another page which can be given a title.
One of the benefits of Penzu is that it is paperless. The author of this article, on the advantages of using this tool, says that the fact that you can add a password to your diary is for privacy (of course). I would add that it offers a double privacy because the user already has a password in order to log in to the account. Another benefit is that this tool can be used across all kinds of devices ranging from computers to mobile devices. This is also a downside of the tool. In order for a user to use Penzu on his/her tablet, he/she has to pay for upgrading his/her account.
How do we use Penzu in education? On her blog, Elinda Gjondedaj talks about the ways Penzu can be used in a classroom. She gives the following ideas: encourage students to keep their own diaries in English, encourage students to keep their e-portfolios, and encourage students to send each other letters in English. On this website, the authors have put together an extensive lists of projects (for different grades) for which students would have to use Penzu. Those projects are mostly related to getting information on a subject and to writing students’ own thought in a journal.
I think that Penzu is a great tool to use in class. I love the idea of Elinda Gjondedaj that consists for students to keep their pieces of writing all in the same place. Therefore, they can see their progress from the beginning to the end of the year. Also, I believe that it is a great tool for writing in general. Students can write more formal texts (even if it is in a diary format) as well as informal texts, such as letters. Moreover, the fact that the journal can be shared with others that are not Penzu account holders is great. For example, the students can write something to their parents for any given holiday and send it by e-mail. They can also add a picture to personalize their message. Any piece of writing done with this tool can also be sent to the teacher for correction or to any other student for revision. I think that when it comes to writing a text, this tool is less boring than other online writing tools. The reason is that for other online writing tools, the user often disposes of a blank page only. In the case of Penzu, the user disposes of a “loose-leaf sheet” kind of page that is more appealing to the eye. The two major downsides that I see for this tool is that a paid upgrade has to be done in order for a user to use it across all types of devices and to export what he or she writes to a word document. Still, these downsides would not stop me to use Penzu with my students.