It seems as if digital eons have transpired since I first started blogging with my 10-grade English students in 2010. Since then I’ve incorporated blogging with an AP English Language class and made blogging a key component in a capstone project seminar for seniors. I’ve also infused photoblogging into media electives. Now I blog regularly with my sixth-grade Language Arts class. I can think of no better way to teach writing skills in an authentic context. Blogging makes writing matter for today’s learners; and, besides, it’s fun.
How We Start
My students learn how to act appropriately as online writers by participating in discussion forums in the 5th grade. Here they learn how to treat their online space as an extension of the classroom. They become familiar with how to interact online in a public space that is different from the gaming and chatting interactions they are used to. They learn and practice basic skills of being respectful, engaged readers, as well as other digital citizenship skills, by engaging in debates and sharing information in an academic digital community.
Such preparation has made my students’ initiation into blogging rather seamless. We take a look at some student blogs to gain a sense of a blog’s form, impact, and readership. We review expectations of online behavior and start with an “about me” post; my version of this incorporates a narrative timeline of the student’s development as a writer. I want my students to understand from the beginning that blogging is writing that takes their commitment to expressing themselves and communicating with others to a whole new level.
The First Blogging Cycle
I teach one new skill with each new blog post. Later, I will collect three posts and their companion comments as a “portfolio” to assess each student’s writing as a developing skill rather than as a discrete writing product. I want to see how each writer grows his or her skills over time.
Post 1: How to Post
The initial “about me” post allows students to become familiar with the blogging format and application. Students learn to write in shorter, more focused paragraphs at the same time that they are learning the skill of providing detail and organizing their thoughts chronologically. Having used Blogger, Edublog, Tumblr, Flickr, and Kidblog as blogging platforms, I find the latter to be the most effective and easiest to employ with beginning bloggers.
Post 2: Ownership and Tagging
The second blog post in our initial cycle is a “free topic” post. This freedom to choose a topic, which I alternate with assigned posts, creates a sense of ownership for the student with his or her blog. Students brainstorm what they can share that would interest readers and start to play with what will become a natural voice for sharing their ideas — all because this post is truly theirs. This post provides an opportunity, as well, to teach the concept of tagging.
Post 3: Linking and Connecting
For our third post, I ask students to make a connection to something we are working on in class. This gives them a common problem to solve, and they can see how others go about the same task. This year we were working on the concept of theme, so I asked students to define a theme in their independent reading, providing examples to support their ideas. At the same time, I challenged students to provide a link to a another website that could help them elaborate their ideas in some way. An easy source here is always an author site, but students also explore sources related to the themes they analyze as well. I want my students to understand the power of hyperlinking to broaden the scope of their posts by undergirding their thinking with outside resources.
Now it’s time for students to learn commenting. We discuss what students would like to hear and not hear in comments on their blog posts. I emphasize that the point of the comment is not to “like” someone’s work, but rather to continue a lively conversation. Because students often have learned only how to comment on one another’s work as peer editors, I stress that their comments engage with the post’s ideas rather than critique the writing. I remind students that their role is that of an engaged reader, not the teacher.
At this point, I grade three posts and their companion comments as a “portfolio” of writing. I focus on areas of growth and development in my feedback comments, while I also hold students accountable for the requirements of tagging and linking, as well as providing detail, organizing their thoughts, and proofreading and editing their work. Thoughtful commenting above and beyond a minimum of two that are required provides an opportunity for students to earn extra points for their overall grade.
The Second Blogging Cycle
At this point students are getting the hang of blogging and are now eager to see their friends’ posts as well as to share their own. I have to work hard to keep up with them!
Post 4: Adding Images
In their fourth post, a “free” topic piece, my young writers show real signs of digging into topics that interest them. For this post, I ask students to find or make an image to enhance their writing in some way. We review copyright standards, Creative Commons licensing, and what to include in a photo or image credit. I introduce search engines for finding photos, but I also encourage student bloggers to provide their own. And, from this point on, in addition to tags and links, I will require an image or photo in each post.
Post 5: Connecting with Other Bloggers
One goal I have for my student bloggers is for them to learn from one another. With this goal in mind, I ask my students to develop their next piece of writing in response to a post by someone else in the class. They can build from another student’s post by writing a response to the ideas expressed, by borrowing from another student’s design or structure for a post, or by simply taking off in another direction based on the original post’s focus or ideas. Students are surprised by the versatility and expertise of their peers, and they begin to build a true community of readers and writers with this step.
Post 6: What Do I Do Now?
With this next “free topic” post, many students establish a clear direction for their writing, while others are still wandering around and sampling different options. For instance, some of my current students have found fertile ground in writing reviews of movies, apps, or games; providing advice and DIY articles on everything from being organized or creating crafts, or sharing a passion for sports teams or art and architecture. These students love the free posts!
Other students, however, find themselves a bit stuck and are clamoring for ideas. This week, I posted a blog for those students on how to find ideas for blogging. My first piece of advice: Solve your problem on your own by Googling “blog ideas for kids.” Of course, at this point, the experienced writing teacher could inject any number of great writing prompts from his or her repertoire. Below you can find some of the resources I recently curated for my students (I’ll share more details on my writing prompts in a later post).
101 Fabulous Blogging Ideas
Some prompts here are clearly for adults only; however, Greene gives a thoughtful overview of how to consider content for blog posts. I especially love her advice about “downbeatery.” She also includes a fabulous list of interview suggestions, list ideas. and recapping and review possibilities!
Kids’ Blog Club
52 Ideas for Blog Posts for Kids
Bloggers can find many good “starters” here; most could be tailored and developed with a particular student audience in mind.
Mostly for teachers, this wiki does offer some general ideas for blogging topics and activities.
Blogging Ideas for Students (Of All Ages)
This post has lots of great ideas, clearly explained in detail. Take a look! Nearly every one is a gem!
Top 9 Free Web Tools to Develop Students’ Creativity
This site includes links to lots of tools for podcasts, video production, cartoons, digital storytelling, infographics, and more.The tools themselves can jog students’ creative thinking about topics for writing, while also providing good visuals in the process.
On a Blogging Roll…
Now that my students are on a blogging roll, I need to plan for the next way to level up their learning. I hope to open their current blog posts for viewing in our school community, thus providing a bigger audience and higher stakes for their writing. Beyond that, I hope to have my students collaborating on a shared blog that connects with the world by the end of the year. If the purpose of writing is to communicate, engage, and even move readers, and I think it is, then I can only hope that I am helping to launch my students’ writing lives as people who connect in meaningful ways through language with others.