Having students create authentic blogs is a surefire way to get students to write passionately. Here’s how to help them successfully publish their first post.
One of my guiding principles as an English teacher has always been this: I should not be preparing students to become English professors.
Few, if any, of my students will become literature critics, writers for the New Yorker, or professional poets. And thusly, I place little import on the need for them to know esoteric literary terms, deep nuances of grammar, or obscure details of long-gone literary movements. Heck, most of the time, I need to look up things like this if I’m going to teach them because they’re so irrelevant to my daily life…and I’m an English teacher.
This English professor-prep curriculum, as I sometimes call it, can also be found in the pseudo-formality of writing instruction that is taught in English classrooms. The formulas and rules that constitute much of what passes for writing instruction in the secondary ELA curriculum do little to create independent writers who can clearly communicate ideas. There is little room for developing voice and versatility with old standbys like the five-paragraph essay and paragraphs with a set number of sentences.
Somewhere along the line, many students are given the impression that long, complex, verbose sentences equate with good writing. Often, these sentences just turn out convoluted and unintelligible. However, good, contemporary writing is clear and concise, unrobotic and creative, and energetic and engaging. The perfect avenue for teaching this kind of writing is blogging. Here’s how to get students started:
Have students look at real blog posts of their choice and then analyze what makes them engaging. Have them investigate questions like:
- How does the title of the post get the reader to click on it from another page?
- How does the blogger hook and draw the reader in at the beginning of their post?
- How is the information in the blog organized? Do they use subheadings, lists, or something else?
- What strategies does the blogger use to draw the post to a close?
- How is the tone and style of the writing different from more traditional writing?
Writing the First Post
The quickest way to kill students’ drive to write is to constrain. Having students write a blog post from the viewpoint of a literary character or on how an author uses metaphor to develop characters is not blogging, it’s just traditional writing prompts in disguise. Instead, allow students to write about whatever it is that they’re passionate about – video games, fashion, sports, or anything else. Give students a list of types of blog posts, and they’ll take it from there.
Beyond that, here are some guidelines to help students write a successful first post:
1.Direct, catchy title
In blogging, many more people will see the title of the blog post than will actually click on it and read it. Therefore, it’s vital to have a good title that tells the reader exactly what the post is about and entices them to click on it.
2. Captivating introductory paragraph
As with most writing, the intro can be make-or-break for readers. Blog posts should work to draw their readers in right from the beginning with classic hooks like anecdotes, interesting statistics, or bold statements.
3. Writing organized in sections
When online readers see giant, unending blocks of text, it’s a discouragement to continue reading. Budding bloggers should take note. Posts should be written in short, easily digestible paragraphs and use headings, bullets, or lists to break up their writing into sections.
4. Media (photo or video)
Similar to writing in sections, media makes writing more inviting to the reader. Plus, photos and videos enhance what is being written about in ways that words alone cannot.
Links serve a variety of purposes for online readers – they can provide readers with outside resources, give credit to a source, and even help boost their page’s popularity. So, it’s essential that students link to other websites.
6. 400-1000 words
There’s a sweet spot for length in blogging – too short and it doesn’t seem like a real article; too long and it becomes a task to read. Falling somewhere in the 400-1000 word range is usually good for readers, and it’s a feasible length for students.
Designing the Blog Site
One of the best parts about blogging with students is that it’s not just a dry lesson in writing strategy, it’s also about website design – an area of instruction worth any 21st-century student’s time.
There are multiple platform options to consider: Blogger seems like it hasn’t been updated in years, Tumblr is more geared toward microblogging, and Medium lends itself to more long-form pieces. My favorite is WordPress (not to be confused with WordPress.org, which requires much more technical know-how). It’s challenging – but not too challenging – for students to set up and design, with results that are professional-looking and modern.
Instead of giving students a step-by-step tutorial in how to use WordPress, I basically tell students to figure it out themselves, and – surprise! – they do. Learning how to use new platforms, interfaces, and programs is a vital skill to have in this day and age – what is new and cutting edge one year can be obsolete the next. Therefore, students don’t need handholding when it comes to each step of learning a new platform. The teacher can act as a guide, if needed, but should mostly let students do the heavy lifting.
One of the biggest benefits of student blogging is that kids get deeply engaged in the process – and engagement drives skill development. There is an instant relevance for students, they have full ownership of the process, and they’re passionate about it in ways that are not often seen in rooms full of adolescents. Check out these examples from my students and see for yourself!:
- Victor’s deeply informed, insightful list of the top Kanye West lyrics
- Dan’s hilarious sendup of the Australian breakfast cereal, Wheatbix
- Maura’s practical and clever tips on saving time in the morning
Have any other tips for getting students blogging? Leave them in the comments below!