Skip to main content


Tips to Improve Writing – Looking Ahead to the OSSLT

It's never too soon to think about preparing for the Ontario Secondary School Literacy test. Since the OSSLT’s debut in 2002, much of how we think about and teach reading and writing has changed. Reading and writing have moved online, and research is beginning to reveal how learning is affected by this shift.

The length of the test and its format are especially challenging for students who find it difficult both to write lengthy responses and to focus for extended periods of time. Preparation will help them perform better on test day.

Writing can be a daunting task, and it takes time and practice for students to improve these skills. The table in Tips to Improve Writing tells students how they can make the most of the writing skills they have. Over time, applying these tips consistently will help students improve the overall quality of their writing.
By Carla Douglas
Image by Marco Verch

Recent posts

Last-Minute Test Tips for the OSSLT

Taking the time to prepare for the OSSLT will give you confidence on test day. Here are some tips to help you give your best effort:

Before the TestReview the test details one more time. What are the tasks? Be clear on how much reading and writing you'll be required to do and how to best approach multiple choice questions.Review test-day procedures at your school. Where does it take place? What room? What time? How much time is allowed to complete it?Be well-rested on test day. You'll be better able to focus. Eat breakfast the day of the test. Avoid too much caffeine and sugar, which can make you feel jumpy or jittery.Dress comfortably. Layers are a good idea in case the test site is too warm or cold.If possible, get some exercise. Go for a walk or jog, or walk to school. Exercise is proven to help reduce stress. Be prepared -- have all the supplies with you that you're allowed to bring into the test: pencils, erasers, pens, water bottle, and so on.Arrive early. Leave you…

Boys and Writing: Tolerance or Desire?

In 2010, EQAO discovered that girls were outperforming boys on the OSSLT — a large-scale high school literacy test in Ontario, Canada, designed to measure Grade 10 students' reading and writing abilities. This finding is consistent with the results of the PISA assessment conducted in 2009.
The trend has persisted in many Ontario schools. The research on boys and literacy suggests potential reasons for this trend, and some educators have suggested differentiated instruction as a solution to bolstering boys' literacy levels. But differentiate how?

Ralph Fletcher, author of Boy Writers: Reclaiming Their Voices, suggests that one of the best and easiest things teachers can do to help boys develop as writers is to allow them to choose what they want to write about.

This idea is fairly consistent with what we already know about boys' preferences for other things. For example, it's fairly uncontested that boys are more likely to appreciate movies and stories with male lead c…

Why Plagiarism Persists

Plagiarism (noun): an act or instance of using or closely imitating the language and thoughts of another author without authorization and the representation of that author’s work as one’s own. Synonyms: appropriation, infringement, piracy, counterfeiting, theft, borrowing, cribbing, passing off  ( 
Plagiarism is taking someone else’s ideas or words and claiming that they are both original and your own. It isn't a difficult concept to understand. Most children have a notion of what stealing is – and know that it’s wrong – by the time they’re around seven years old.
But plagiarism has been in the news again lately, and you have to wonder: If everyone knows that you’re not supposed to pass off someone else’s ideas as your own, then why does it occur so often? I think there are a few answers.
1. The Internet has made our brains soft.  It used to be that doing research meant going to the library and looking through books and hard copies of other documents to find inform…

How to Avoid Plagiarism

In the article Why Plagiarism Persists, I discussed some of the reasons plagiarism is in the news and why it persists. Sometimes plagiarism is accidental, but sometimes it’s intentional, outright theft of other people’s ideas.

Regardless of intent, if you do commit plagiarism, chances are you’ll be caught. If you’re a student, you’ll face academic penalties, which may mean you'll receive a zero on that assignment or worse, you’ll fail the course altogether. If you’re a journalist or a fiction or non-fiction writer, you may be publicly chastised for this crime, and you could lose your job. In either case you will most likely face some form of public humiliation.
Why take the chance (unless you’re truly dishonest) when you can easily avoid it?

Three Ways to Plagiarize If you are a student, you could commit academic plagiarism in one of these ways:
You copy, word-for-word or with very slight changes, someone else’s work, and you don’t acknowledge the source. In other words, you pre…

Where Students Get Stuck: Tips for Getting the Main Idea

Information from EQAO shows that many students have difficulty identifying the main idea in reading selections. As a result, they also have trouble developing a main idea with sufficient and relevant supporting details in their writing.

Getting the main idea is the key concept for mastering writing tasks and understanding reading tasks.

Getting the Main Idea The complexity of identifying the main idea is often overlooked. We tell students that the main idea is what a piece of writing is “mostly about,” but for some students this is not specific enough.

As well, students are taught that the main idea will appear in the topic sentence at the beginning of a reading selection. Frequently this is not the case.

The main idea may appear anywhere in the opening paragraph, and sometimes it is not stated directly at all. In these cases, students need a strategy to “search out” and identify the main idea.

Topic versus Main Idea Most students can successfully identify the topic. They run into pr…

Reading Graphic Selections

Many students struggle with visual literacy and have difficulty reading and understanding the graphic selections required for the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test.

The Internet provides nearly infinite opportunities for reading graphic selections. Most web pages include some or all of the following:
animationheadings and text in a variety of arrangements and fontsiconsmapsnumbers, bullets and other visual featuresphotographspicturessymbols and corporate logosvideo clips
The most distinctive feature of web pages is that they are interactive. For this reason, in order to get the full meaning of web page contents, reading practice for these selections should happen online.
The following websites are rich with the kinds of visual features and graphic elements students need to interact with to improve visual literacy: TV OntarioSmithsonian InstitutionOntario Skills PassportCanadian Museum for Human Rights