Mon | Oct 15, 2018

Techno-Tools for the classroom | Improve writing skills with Quill

Published:Sunday | August 27, 2017 | 12:00 AMGen Clacken


Last year, sixty-seven per cent of the students in the Caribbean passed the CSEC English A summer examination.

This year, the region is hoping for even marginal improvement in the ability of school leavers to demonstrate their competence in the use of this language.

Sadly, a vast majority of Jamaican students struggle to use English, and a large number of those students are not even represented in CXC statistics.

To improve writing skills, there are applications that are being developed to support English language learning (ELL) across the world.

We focus on Quill, a writing application that allows students to develop competencies required to become proficient at writing in English.




Quill is classified as a "lightweight learning management system" that is built to support the teaching of writing skills, including grammar and vocabulary. The application, which was developed in 2014, is owned and managed by a non-profit organisation based in the United States called Empirical. Empirical developed the Quill application to assist students from low-income families to become proficient writers of English. The app targets learners at the primary, secondary, and tertiary levels and has a database of over thirty million questions. Today, Quill has a following of approximately three hundred thousand students, and the founders hope to increase that number to thirty million over the next few years.




Quill can be found at Sign-up is very simple and requires only a valid email account. Users are required to complete a very short form and also set up a 'Quill Class' on the site.

After the class is set up, users are required to add students to their classes by following a few simple steps. Educators also have the option of signing up with a Google account, but once that is done, such persons will be required to integrate Quill with their Google Classroom account.




After the set-up is complete, users are given the opportunity to create activities for their students based on learner needs.

Currently, there are approximately 450 customised activity packs on the site, each lasting from a minimum of 10 minutes to a maximum of one hour and covering a range of language arts skills (e.g., sentence structure, punctuation use, and identifying and correcting errors in passages).

Quill also provides diagnostic activities that can help teachers identify specific gaps in their students' abilities and allows the teacher to assign activities to all the members in the class or to specific students. Once an activity has been created, students can simply navigate to the site and use log-in instructions provided by the teacher to enter and then complete the activities.

All marking is done by the application, and as such, students are provided with instant feedback.

The application is also very intuitive and provides students with assistance (prompts, clues, and reminders) as they navigate through the various activities.




Quill was named 'Tool of the Month for Language Learners' by the American TESOL Institute in July of this year. It has an extensive menu of activities to choose from and is easily set up and implemented.

The application is somewhat adaptive and provides support to students based on identified needs and skills gaps. Students can work at their own pace and have the opportunity to retake activities to improve mastery.

Quill provides students with instant feedback, and teachers are provided with progress reports for the entire class as well as individual students. These reports can be used to monitor progress and further customise learning for each student.

The pre-packaged activities make it easier for teachers to create learning opportunities for their students, and they also can create their own customised activity packs.

Quill is ideal for the flipped classroom approach but can be used for in-class activities, providing that there is reliable Internet connectivity. The application can also be used in home-school programmes and by private tutors and parents looking to support what students are learning in school.




Tool: Quill

Classification: Learning Management System (LMS)


Classroom Application:

Engagement/introductory activity

Evaluation/culminating activity

Diagnostic tool

Reinforcement tool

Cost: Free

- Gen Clacken is an educational technologist with 15 years' experience in online education. she can be contacted at