3 Quick Tips For Getting Students Blogging

Never before have I had to ask students to finish up their writing.  In my experience, students usually throw down their pencils in triumph after three sentences – not after having typed furiously for 20 minutes.  So, I was completely surprised – and stifling giggles – when I had to ask my juniors and seniors to wrap up their Friday Free Blog posts for the third, fourth and fifth times – on the Friday before a three-day weekend, no less.

Getting the students to this point took only minimal scaffolding on my part, largely due to the natural overlap between blogging and social networking.

Tip 1: It’s My Space … or, Their Space

Our students want to share their lives, their personalities and their preferred flavor of ice cream.  Never before in my class have I given students the opportunity to create and personalize a space that is entirely theirs to bring into the classroom, and never before have I felt that a 20 minute activity taught me so much about my students.  My only suggestion in terms of their first blog post was that they include images.  Check out the stunning – and diverse – results below:

Screen Shot 2013-09-04 at 7.38.06 PMScreen Shot 2013-09-04 at 7.45.17 PM

In all of my classes, we started small with a typical ice breaker: introduce yourself! From there, we’ve graduated up to more complex responses drawing on narrative and analytical writing types, as well as less-structured prompts like Friday Free Blog.

Tip 2: Inspiration is Everywhere

As a high school English teacher, my blog posts draw from our literary curriculum, our supplemental informational texts, and also the web at large.  In particular, I am a huge fan of these inspirational sites, which serve as our models:

  1. The Literary Jukebox – This blog, a side-project of Brain Pickings author Maria Popova, posts a quotation from a novel and a song that the quotation inspires daily.  Ask students to do the same (and also, articulate the rational behind the choice.
  2. Writing Prompts Tumblr – Luke Neff, a humanities teacher, posts incredibly creative writing prompts paired with stunning, inspirational images.  Each corresponds to a Common Core Standard.
  3. Re:Framed – David Theriault shares his students’ best work “re-framing” a concept from class through a personal lens – anything that they love.  While this concept is a natural for literature, I think it could fit equally well in any discipline.

Tip 3: Frequent Feedback

Just as blogging is a natural fit for our students because of their social networking prowess, they expect frequent and regular feedback.  Because we’re using Google Accounts for Education, my students use Blogger to host their sites, since the two are linked.  I’ve found posting comments on individual blogger pages to be a bit cumbersome because the site requires a CAPTCHA response.  As such, I’ve gathered my students’ blogs’ URLs and email addresses into a Google spreadsheet through a Google form.  There, I give each student feedback and use the ValMerge script (which runs a simple mail merge) to send students individualized emails.  Here is a short video to demonstrate and a sample spreadsheet.

Additionally, I’m working to implement a student feedback mechanism.  We’ve worked to establish norms for online communication (thanks to Catlin Tucker’s post).  Currently, the student feedback template looks very similar to the teacher feedback form; I’ll post about further modifications to the system.

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