Whether you’re a techie who holds after-school Skype seminars or an old-school prof who demands stapled, hard copies on your desk by 5 PM sharp, you can use blogs to keep students engaged in and out of the classroom.
If you’re new to integrating blogging into your lesson plans, here’s a sample plan of action.
1. Decide which blogging platform to use
Choose one platform and require every student to use it – no matter their personal preference. Even if students already maintain a personal blog, be sure they create a new blog solely for the purposes of class. Collect each student’s blog address and distribute the list to the class via email.
2. Start with an assignment that works as an old-fashioned English paper
God forbid that technology should actually detract from the goal of your classroom—which is to explore the art of written communication. Ease into incorporating blogs into the classroom by assigning a “traditional” English assignment, but requiring students to post their finished product on their blog.
Let’s say you’ve tasked your class with the following assignment.
Be sure to define the parameters for the assignment – their blog shouldn’t be an excuse for students to slack off! Clearly identify grading criteria, and make sure students understand that if you ask them to post the final draft of a paper on their blog, you will hold it to the same standards of grammar, style, and mechanics than you would a printed essay.
3. Get those comments rolling
Once students have taken the first step – posting their “traditional” English paper on their blogs – it’s time to exercise the full capacity of the blog genre.
Instruct students to read each others’ essays and post comments on, say, 6 or 7 of them. Indicate that you will check to make sure they make the required number of posts. Encourage students to offer both praise and constructive criticism of their peers’ work, and spell out your standards for respectful online interaction. When properly monitored, internet forums give even the quietest students a chance to enter class discussion.
Read all the posts and summarize the discussion threads in the classroom the next day, and open up the online discussions to the class.
You might also ask students to write a reflection post about the above activities, answering questions such as:
- What comments on your paper surprised you?
- How do you think you might have improved your argument?
- What did you learn about the writing or reading process with this assignment?
- Do you have any plans to expand your 2-page argument?
For the midterm or final paper (whether it’s a 5- or 15-pager), allow students to build upon their essay. Have them blog about the process of expanding the paper – ask them to post their revised thesis on the blog, or to document their research questions. The key is to make students feel a sense of ownership over their work in the class.
4. Encourage discussions between assignments
After their first assignment, students will be more familiar with the workings of their blog — if they weren’t already. Instruct students to post questions (about classroom material) or writing/research challenges they are facing on their blogs. Offer extra credit to students who post helpful feedback on other students’ blogs; consider grading “blog participation” as a component of students’ class participation grades.
5. Reflect on the research process
If you incorporate any amount of research in the class, you may have students post about their research efforts—what’s working for them, what’s not and how they see their work evolving. Encourage students to use their blog to link to helpful resources they’ve found on the web.
6. Showcase creative talents
If you incorporate any amount of creative writing into your English class, blogs are a great way to help students “jump into” different characters. Students might post full stories or poems on their blogs – or they might post individual scenes, character descriptions, or “free-writes” to get their creative wheels turning. If creative writing is the main purpose of your students’ blogs, it might also work to create a single class blog, like the one above, where students can share their own work or inspirational excerpts from the work of published writers.
The advantage of the blog format here is that students who are usually paralyzed by the blank page may find it easier to write when publishing and feedback can happen more instantaneously.
7. Explore other assignments
Depending on the English class you’re teaching, you may have the opportunity to incorporate “top ten” lists, opinion articles, and “how-to” essays into your syllabus. These assignments lend themselves well to being published on blogs. If you’re teaching a “specialty” class like Journalism (see below), a class blog might also be a helpful resource.
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