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Teach Students New Writing Skills with Blogging

Blogging is a unique form of writing that presents students with new challenges. Taking advantage of students’ keen interest in technology and combining it with language arts curriculum objectives allows teachers to use one project to create productive as well as highly motivating lessons.

Students as Consumers of Information

Traditional classroom writing assignments have students play the role of consumers of information: they research, study, or summarize facts that they have read, watched, or heard from another source. Social studies, science, history, and geography writing tasks generally have students retell and demonstrate what they have learned. The focus is on the information and as a result, language arts skills may often be overlooked. If the focus is on the writing instead, progress can occur in leaps and bounds.

Students as Producers of Information
TechnoKids

Blogs, by their very nature, place the writer in the role of a producer of information. Bloggers write from an area of expertise or interest. They do not have to search for material or facts. The writing comes from within.

When we introduced blogging to Grade 7 and 8 students, we asked them to choose a subject about which they were familiar or a subject in which they had a personal interest. We were amazed at the topics they came up with! The range of topics seemed infinite: food, sports, family, hobbies, television shows, video games, fashion, books, shopping, and more. Once students started writing about an area of interest, they were hooked! Even reluctant writers and students new to the English language had lots to say.

Structured Blogging

Just like any other curriculum assignment, students were given required elements to their writing. To cover a range of styles, we chose three distinct writing activities:

  • The first blog had to introduce an area of interest and offer a personal insight or connection.
  • The second post was an advice article.
  • The final blog was an opinion piece, allowing students to express a viewpoint.

To fit the blogging format, students read and commented on each other’s work throughout the project. They learned how to make meaningful, respectful comments. This had an added incentive for students – knowing that their peers were going to read and make comments on their work seemed to spur them on to greater efforts.

First Person Narrative

Another unique feature of blogs is the first person style of writing. In primary grades students routinely write journals, but after that writing from the “I” point of view seems to be rarely practiced. Writing blog posts is the perfect format for practicing a new narration style.

blogging resources

Finding Inspiration for Writing

Some students struggled with this new format. They felt the need to ‘go online’ and look up facts and figures, as they were used to doing. But with some encouragement, samples, and explanation they quickly got the idea that they really were experts. They were soon convinced that they did have a great deal of knowledge and lots of ideas to share. Then the writing took off!

It was a rare and wonderful treat to have students exclaim, after finishing a writing assignment to say, “So, when are we starting the next one?” Blogging is my new best friend in the classroom.


Students become bloggers.

More About What Students Think About Blogging

This article is a continuation of my previous post. In that post, I offered insight into what students think about blogging. To gain feedback, I had provided seventy five Grade 7 and 8 students with a survey after the blogging unit, TechnoBlog. In the previous post, I outlined some of their responses. Here are their remaining responses to the last three questions.

Blogging Survey

Students respond to questions about digital citizenship and blogging.

Digital Citizenship

Digital citizenship was a concept interwoven into the blogging activities. We had discussed how to communicate appropriately when blogging. A Blogging Agreement and Commenting Guideline were two documents used to support learning. As well, there was a Digital Footprint bulletin board created to emphasize that what is posted online can be tracked. Commenting Rules were posted in the computer lab and were referred to often.

Did any of these efforts resonate with students. Did they understand the importance of being a good digital citizen? To find out students were asked two open-ended questions. I have posted some of the responses to show the range.

A good digital citizen is someone that uses technology responsibly. What things did you need to do to be a good digital citizen when blogging?

  • Think before you comment and only write something that you would say to the person’s face.
  • I took into consideration others and how they would respond.
  • I had to make sure that I kept the privacy of others.
  • Share your personal experiences but don’t tell your personal info.
  • Be polite, yet honest.
  • Do research a lot, give reasons when hating on something.

Do you think it is important to be a good digital citizen? Why or why not?

  • Yes, because the whole world can see what you are blogging about.
  • Yes, I think it is important to be a good digital citizen because I think it reflects what kind of person you are.
  • Yes, because it is important to not be mean or rude because that can lead to cyberbullying.
  • Yes, because it can affect your reputation.
  • Yes, I think it is important to be a good digital citizen because whatever you do can be traced back to you and that could look bad on you.
  • Yes, because in this generation, the Internet is becoming more and more popular and we revolve around it.

NOTE: Only one student stated that being a good digital citizen was not important. They wrote, “No, Internet isn’t all life”.

The responses affirmed that students did understand the importance of digital citizenship. Often people can recite the rules but they don’t necessarily follow them. I found that students were able to write posts and comments that respected the need for privacy, they learned how to be polite yet truthful, and over time they were able to write appropriate comments. I am hopeful that they will be able transfer these skills outside of school to other forms of social media.

Share your opinion about the blogging unit.

I wanted to give students an opportunity to share their thoughts and ideas about the blogging unit. Here is what they had to say:

  • I liked the blogging unit. It was a fun way to write about things that interest you.
  • It wasn’t my favorite at first but now I’m starting to like it.
  • I loved it. I wish I could have my own blog, or at least do this unit forever and ever.
  • I enjoyed blogging even though I don’t like writing. It was a good class and I enjoyed it.
  • I think that we should have made the unit longer and put more time into our posts.
  • I always looked forward to it after gym. It was one of my favorite subjects!

Did everyone like the blogging unit? There was some negative feedback, which I appreciated because it indicated that students felt comfortable answering this question honestly. Here is what some students had to say:

  • I didn’t learn much, but I wouldn’t have learned anything anyways from the units we would have done.
  • It’s okay. I found it boring at times but overall it was okay.
  • Not my favorite, I was not challenged.
  • I didn’t really like it considering I never blog. I use Instagram.

I appreciated the students’ taking the time to answer the Blogging Unit survey. I was happy to see that learning had taken place. My opinion was that blogging is a worthwhile creative writing unit that had educational value.

What Students Think About Blogging

A few months ago I taught the blogging unit, TechnoBlog, to several Grade 7 and 8 classes. After the unit was complete I designed a survey to gain student feedback. Some of the questions had a list of choices, while others were open ended. The results were interesting – so I thought I would share them with you.

blogging survey

Student responses to a blogging unit.

Students and Commenting

I noticed at the beginning of the blogging unit students struggled to write meaningful, polite comments. During the first commenting lesson on peers’ blog posts common responses were limited to #yolo or hey. This was surprising because these comments were typed immediately after I lead a class discussion about Commenting Guidelines and had modelled how to comment appropriately on a post. Once students realized they needed to write a meaningful comment, many shifted to typing generic statements such as “I like it” or “That is good”. It took time, but slowly students were able to develop their communication skills. By the end of the unit, discussions were taking place among authors and fellow readers in the Comment section of a post. The change was astounding!

I was interested to know what students found the most challenging and easiest part of commenting. There were two questions: When commenting on posts what did you find the most challenging? When commenting on posts what did you find the easiest? Each question had the same six choices: Saying something meaningful, Being polite, Writing comments that reflect you in a positive way, Staying on topic, Avoiding sarcasm, and Clearly stating ideas.

Here are their responses:

When commenting on posts what did you find the most challenging?

  • 28% stated that “Saying something meaningful” was the most challenging.
  • 25% stated that “Avoiding sarcasm” was the most challenging.
  • 15% stated that “Clearly stating ideas” was the most challenging.
  • 13% stated that “Staying on topic” was the most challenging.
  • 11% stated that “Being polite” was the most challenging.
  • 9% stated that “Writing comments that reflect you in a positive way” was the most challenging.

When commenting on posts what did you find the easiest?

  • 24% stated that “Staying on topic” was the easiest.
  • 21% stated that “Being polite” was the easiest.
  • 15% stated that “Clearly stating ideas” was the easiest.
  • 15% stated that “Saying something meaningful” was the easiest.
  • 14% stated that “Writing comments that reflect you in a positive way” was the easiest.
  • 11% stated that “Avoiding sarcasm” was the easiest.

I found that student responses to the two questions supported my observations. I had noticed during the unit, that the comments that had to be edited (or sometimes deleted) were most often sarcastic comments. These comments could easily be interpreted by others as cruel or mean. Students had to learn that there is a difference in meaning when the same words are typed or spoken. When a person speaks to someone the tone of voice, body language, and facial expression help a person understand the meaning of the words. However, when typing those cues are absent and the same words can easily be misconstrued. Even when LOL is added after the statement, the comment can still be misinterpreted. It took time to develop this understanding.

I was not surprised by the fact that students reported that staying on topic was the easiest part of commenting. During the unit, I never had to request a student edit or delete a comment because it was unrelated to the post. All comments written by students related to the topic of the post.

Students and Blogging

There was a shift in students’ attitude towards writing blog posts and an increase in how much they wrote over the course of the unit. The majority of students wrote three sentences in their first blog post. Many sighed (or groaned aloud) when they were encouraged to write more. However, with each new post, students were found to write longer posts. I noticed that several students began to finish their posts at home, while other students even started to create their own posts.

I was interested to know what students found the most challenging and easiest part of blogging. There were two questions: When writing a post what did you find the most challenging? When writing a post what did you find the easiest? Each question had the same nine choices: Coming up with an idea, Sharing personal experiences, Being polite yet honest, Maintaining the privacy of others, Writing something interesting, Using an attention grabbing title, Spelling and grammar errors, Formatting the post, and Tagging the post. Students could select more than one choice.

Here are their responses:

When writing a post what did you find the most challenging?

  • 16% stated that “Coming up with an idea” was the most challenging.
  • 14% stated that “Writing something interesting” was the most challenging.
  • 14% stated that “Spelling and grammar errors” was the most challenging.
  • 12% stated that “Sharing personal experiences” was the most challenging.
  • 10% stated that “Using an attention grabbing title” was the most challenging.
  • 10% stated that “Being polite yet honest” was the most challenging.
  • 9% stated that “Tagging the post” was the most challenging.
  • 10% stated that “Formatting the post” was the most challenging.
  • 4% stated that “Maintaining the privacy of others” was the most challenging.

When writing a post what did you find the easiest?

  • 17% stated that “Coming up with an idea” was the easiest.
  • 11% stated that “Tagging the post” was the easiest.
  • 11% stated that “Maintaining the privacy of others” was the easiest.
  • 11% stated that “Writing something interesting” was the easiest.
  • 10% stated that “Sharing personal experiences” was the easiest.
  • 10% stated that “Using an attention grabbing title” was the most challenging.
  • 10% stated that “Being polite yet honest” was the easiest.
  • 10% stated that “Spelling and grammar errors” was the easiest.
  • 9% stated that “Formatting the post” was the easiest.

The blogging responses do not reveal one particular area of strength or weakness. Instead, how students respond to writing seems to be unique. Where one person finds coming up with an idea difficult, another person finds that easy. Where one person struggles with spelling and grammar errors, another finds the mechanics of writing simple. I suspect that this would be true of any writing assignment – not just blogging.

Advice to Bloggers

I had evaluated students’ blog posts at the end of the unit – which was one way to assess learning. However, I wanted to extend my understanding of what students had learned from the unit. For this reason I asked the question, “What advice would you give to a blogger to help them write good posts and comment?” I thought this type of question would emphasize what students thought was important and also indicate which message they had taken away from the blogging lessons. I have posted some of the responses to show the range.

What advice would you give to a blogger to help them write good posts and comment?

  • Be creative and blog about something you love.
  • Write about things you love, not what your friends love. You may think you’re the only one interested in a certain topic, but there will always be at least a few other people who share a common interest with you.
  • Think about what you want to post about before you start your blog!
  • Be honest, have fun, and let the words flow.
  • Make sure you read over your comments and posts before sharing them<./li>
  • Make sure you have a good attention grabbing title that will interest the reader instantly.
  • Format your posts so the reader can skim through it, yet find all the information they need.
  • Be nice and don’t swear or be mean.
  • When you comment make sure it’s short, polite, and meaningful. If you can’t say think of anything nice to say, DON’T SAY ANYTHING.
  • Stay on task.

As a teacher, I was pleased to see that students had learned something about digital citizenship and the writing process.

There were three more open ended questions on the survey. I will post their responses in my next blog post.

Top 10 Commenting Tips for Students

Are you teaching a blogging unit? Commenting is a new social skill. Often people make mistakes because they do not know the rules or etiquette for how to communicate. Have your students be good digital citizens. Here is some advice on “how to comment” that you can pass onto students:

  1. Think before you comment. In a face-to-face conversation what you say is not recorded for everyone to hear later. However, your comments can remain on the Internet for a long time and anyone can read them. Avoid regret! Think before you type.
  2. Say something meaningful. What you write should add to the conversation. A comment should offer encouragement, make a connection, ask a question, offer advice, or state an opinion.
  3. Be polite. You should not swear, hurl insults, act mean, or take over the conversation. If you do, you are likely to have your comments deleted or you will be banned from commenting.
  4. Only write something you would say in person. When commenting, it is easy to forget that the blogger and fellow readers are real people because you cannot see their face. It is a good idea to write as if the person can see you.
  5. blogging resources

  6. Write comments that reflect you in a positive way. Your comments tell people about who you are. For example, if you write something encouraging, people will think you are kind or if you offer some advice, people will think you are helpful. But if you write something mean, insulting, or hateful, people will think you are a bully or rude.
  7. comment blog

    Follow the commenting tips.

  8. Stay on topic. Your comments should be about the blog post. If you write something unrelated to the topic, it shows that you did not read the article.
  9. Be clear. Write exactly what you mean. In a face-to-face conversation tone of voice, facial expressions, hand gestures, and body stance help convey meaning. When you comment visual cues are not available. For this reason, make sure readers understand your message.
  10. Avoid sarcasm. You do not want people to think you are rude. Even if you add to your comment LOL (laugh out loud) or JK (just kidding) your comment may still be hurtful to another person because they misunderstand your tone.
  11. Be concise. A comment should only be a few words or sentences. If you have a lot to say, write your own blog post then include a hyperlink to it as part of your comment.
  12. Assume everyone can read your comment. You might think your comment is private and it can only be read by your friends or the people in your school. However, since your comments are digital they can be copied and shared with others, without your permission. For this reason, never write anything that you do not want to be public.