By Emily Liebtag, Jessica Slusser and Erik Day
Writing in the 21st-Century does and will continue to look a lot different than it did even 10 years ago. From cursive to coding and from book reports to blogging, things will continue to change in a number of ways. We’re not lobbying for the end of the traditional 5-paragraph essay or the need for expository writing skills, but there are new players in the game and it’s important we prepare students to face these new challenges with new writing projects.
Shelley Wright was spot on when she wrote, “I’m not proposing that you need to do things radically different. Teach whatever you teach for Language Arts, or other subjects, but include a blog component.” Consider the jobs today’s students might have:
- Social Media or Communication Manager
- Business Operations Lead
- Marketing Associate
- Project Manager for an EdTech Company
All of these jobs require a unique skillset, and writing that is adapted to different audiences, projects and goals. Not only do students need to understand the elements of each type, but now more than ever they also need to make their message (be it in a blog or a report) well-crafted and well-informed, and they need to share it with the appropriate audience and channels. Here are six projects that can help students develop these skills.
Blogging is pervasive, and there are many different styles of blogging (news, instructional, personal, etc.) each with unique purposes and advantages. If students aren’t blogging already (like those in Susan Davis’s class or Sharon Davison’s), it is still safe to say that they likely will be at some point in their academic or professional futures. The best part is that blogging is still writing, but the style and purpose can be totally unique and make for interesting new writing projects.
In the online article appropriately titled, “You Won’t Finish This Article. Why people online don’t read to the end”, Farhad Manjoo of Slate shares that most readers only get through about 50% of content in Slate Articles. Does that mean we shouldn’t value longer, more in-depth articles or research? No, but it does mean writers and future writers need to learn how to effectively communicate their message in the first couple of paragraphs. (We hope you will read on, of course!)
One great resource is EduBlogs, who recently made their services 100% free for students. Why not help your students get real-world blog-writing experience they can share with a public audience?
How often do you email your co-workers, students, parents or community members? We all use email throughout most of the day, and it’s important for students to be skilled in email communication. Try to help students be aware of the perceived emotion in their writing and of the different ways their writing could be interpreted since they’re not having a face to face conversation. Teach students about tools available to them such as draft emails, asking for a peer review, and using spell check or tools like Grammarly, and provide them with tips like when to CC vs. BCC. Then, form assignments by giving them real-life business circumstances that they may encounter, asking them to decide which of a list of colleagues would be best to e-mail to solve their problem, and then having them draft an appropriate e-mail to solve the issue.
Students will likely, having grown up with social media, have a knack for this. But that doesn’t mean teachers can’t help them learn to use it professionally with a specific goal in mind. Almost every business has a Twitter, and Twitter is also a great way for individuals to frame and establish a professional expertise. Even without those incentives, the exercise of crafting an engaging message that empathizes with audience needs in 140 characters is great for teaching students to think persuasively on a micro level. Try giving students an assignment in which they are responsible for developing a set of 7-10 tweets (with hashtags and all) that they think would get the largest positive response (in terms of likes, retweets, replies or clickthroughs) from an assigned business’s audience. Then, have them work in groups to provide feedback and think more deeply about the messages they created. This is the type of writing project that your students will enjoy, because it prepares them for and recognizes them as part of the internet era.
A tweet could also be a great exit or entry ticket for students. Check out these tweet and text templates from National Behaviour Support Services–what a great formative assessment! You can also start a class Twitter handle and practice as a class.
Strategic Communication and PR
There’s endless career opportunity in communication and public relations, but the way writing is done in that career has changed thanks to new and more constant means of communicating with various audiences. Students should have a chance to practice developing and planning a holistic communication campaign including blog, social media and email marketing components. Unless a plan has objectives, frequency and some thorough research on the targeted audience, communication efforts won’t get the results you want. Students who want to work in social media or marketing jobs need to be able to articulate why a particular hashtag might help to achieve a specific business outcome for a company, or explain the reasoning behind their recommendations for how frequently and when to publish posts. It’s also important for students to be able to shift from writing strategic social posts to writing up analytics reports on the efficacy of those posts to share with their future teams and leadership.
Students should also practice creating press-release templates, then practice writing a media advisory and press release for different announcements. How will they hook their desired audience? Have them first practice writing press releases for various different announcements to get practice with various audiences and news types. Then have them share just the headline and sub-headline with peers. Are they interested in reading on? Does it describe what the reader is going to learn more about? After gleaning feedback from their peers, students can finalize a more polished release. This will mimic the same sort of review and feedback cycles most of us use in our daily work.
How often do you text with your leadership team and colleagues? What about with parents (Class Dojo)? While this may not be the #1 way professionals engage, it is definitely a new mode of communication for rapid response and quick discussion. It’s important that students learn the difference between each of these new writing types and keep them in mind even when texting. How you text a client may look vastly different than a quick question sent to a co-worker. Kids have their cell phones at school, there’s no denying that, so use them to your benefit!
As the most common jobs shift in nature from the performance of repetitive tasks to the fulfillment of more discrete, unique projects (the project-based, gig economy), employees everywhere will be responsible for developing projects that deliver results. To do this, they will need to be able to communicate recommendations that tie a set of actions to specific business goals in a clear, convincing manner. This does not come naturally to most, but it is a skill that will become more and more crucial.
Additionally, many employers need great scientific or social media writers, but these writers also need to be able to layout the plan and goals that they will follow in a business or communication plan. Project reports, or any form of document that summarizes work, also are a key part of many employees’ jobs.
Next time you read a blog or a tweet, consider how you could incorporate that style of writing into your instructional day as a writing project for your students. Also explore LDC.org, which has professional development for teachers on how to facilitate writing across the curriculum, a band of quality writing prompts and a collaborative lesson authoring environment. Already teaching new and alternative forms of writing in your classroom? We want to hear from you! Check out our guest posting guidelines, then send your idea to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more, see:
- Encourage Writing with a Domain, Blog & Portfolio
- Social Media & Strategic Communications in 2015
- 9 Tips for Next-Gen Public Relations
- The Educator’s Guide to Social Media
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