Shmoop Promises to "Vanquish" Dread Over Writing

For teachers and students,, a popular online study guide website, recently released a new feature called "Shmoop Essay Lab" and it's a powerful teaching/learning tool, especially for students who struggle with developing ideas and organizing their essays. Students can choose to write about literature or to develop a college entrance essay and Shmoop's interactive tutorial walks them through the process from topic selection to final edit. What's really interesting is that the literature essay tutorials are custom designed and paired with any one of dozens of books. So, for example, if a student is writing about To Kill a Mockingbird, she can select that book from the menu and follow the step-by-step tutorial for developing an essay about a theme or a topic related to that particular book. The tutorial even offers specific quotes from the text that students can use to support their ideas in the body of their essays. In the Classroom Because Shmoop offers a lot of content and analysis from the books, I don't think using this tutorial as the final assessment after reading a book would be wise. If this were the final test, students might be tempted to skip the reading and just use the examples provided by Shmoop. On the other hand, this tutorial can provide effective scaffolding to support students while they learn to write the "literary analysis" essay. Why not have them write using the tutorial a few times, and then have them write without it (remove the scaffolding) and see what they have gleaned from first using Shmoop's Writing Lab? In my experience, anything that gets students busy with the writing process is an asset, so maybe Shmoop really can "vanquish the dreaded blank sheet of paper" like they promise to with this cool application. Check it out and tell me what you think.