By H. E. James
More than 10 years ago, I used a tool in my accelerated Language Arts classroom that had never been used in that department before: a blog. While teaching the Princess Bride by William Goldman to 30 sophomores, I used a blog to ask this group of self-starters questions about the book.
They were each required to respond to the question and complete two additional responses—I.E. leave comments—on their peers’ posts. It was a great way of getting the students to engage not only with the text but also with each other.
It’s also a great life skill to teach students, as blogging has become integral not only to most industries, but a means to make extra income.
Because blogging was new to my school’s Language Arts department, it never really took off as a teaching tool while I was still there. However, with the variety of blogging techniques and platforms available now, there are so many great ways to use the technique in classrooms across the spectrum.
Technology can sometimes contribute to a lack of engagement among students, so why not turn that on its head? In this case, it’s quite the contrary—blogging is a great way to boost student engagement.
Here are 10 ways to use blogs in the classroom. The one hard-and-fast rule is that all students and instructors use the same platform for each type of assignment. Enjoy choosing a method… or two or three!
Video blogging, or “vlogging,” is a great way to teach students public speaking skills while engaging with educational material. Ask your students an open-ended question about the learning material and require them to record a short video reacting to the question.
Some students are better at expressing thoughts verbally, and giving them a chance to share their responses via platforms like Vimeo or even Instagram, gives them the ability to do exactly that. Even the writers can engage via vlogging—have these students create a 2-minute video, saying nothing, as they hold up poster board with a speech written on it.
2. Scavenger Hunt
Internet scavenger hunts are great for courses that require students to engage in heavy research, such as STEM courses or social sciences. To do this with your students, post the questions that must be answered for each scavenger hunt on your teacher blog.
Students then post their results on their blogs by the deadline. They are then required to comment a specific number of times on classmates’ posts and publish their results by another deadline.
This fun blogging idea fosters discussion about differing answers and opinions, and increases their engagement with the material. It will also foster friendly competition among your students, as they work to prove their disparate answers. Competition is one of many great ways to get your students’ attention.
3. Online Debate
Debates, especially at the secondary level, can get highly competitive. In fact, the National Speech and Debate Association oversees competitions throughout the country.
Transferring a Lincoln-Douglas debate to a blog sounds daunting, but all it takes is a few parameters:
- Choose one topic a week and two students.
- Post the topic on your blog.
- The student presenting the positive argument would then post a response. The response can be written or prepared as a video.
- The negative respondent then posts; so on and so forth.
Present the information to the class, who completes the debate by choosing a winner.
4. Online Mock Trial
Another twist on a classic speech and debate technique: put a character in a novel or a famous historical figure on trial. Using classic mock trial scripts as your starting point, the preamble for this activity would be students conducting research to build their cases.
Students then post videos presenting their cases. The other students in class cross-examine by posting comments on videos. The lawyers then respond in class rather than online, carrying engagement over from computer to classroom. The debate could then go on until a verdict is reached.
This blogging activity is perfect for engaging creative writing students. You, as the instructor, start the story with a creative writing prompt. To get the highest level of engagement and creativity from your students, choose fiction prompts rather than reflection prompts.
You then write the introduction to the story and ask each student to contribute a certain amount of words to the story. The first student to respond must continue the story from where you left off, and so on.
Read the resulting story, without any editing, in class for maximum engagement and bang-for-your-blogging buck.
6. Long-term Project
Here’s a chance for you as the educator to create a quarter- or semester-long project that meets multiple needs. Provide loose guidelines for your students and let them create blog and vlog posts that reflect their understanding of the learning material.
This is your students’ opportunity to showcase the projects they’ve created while engaging with the assignment. Some might create video presentations on specific topics. Others will write essays or create art projects.
Require a specific number of posts and responses for students. Remember that requiring every student to respond to all of their peers’ posts will reduce engagement—and you’ll end up with rote answers rather than thoughtful ones. Always allow them to choose just 3 to 5 to respond to.
7. Creative Writing Portfolios
Encourage your students to set up their own blog to record their creativity throughout the year in your classroom and beyond. Teach them the techniques you want them to employ: journaling, video essays, presentations, etc.; all of which can all contribute to a full and impressive creative writing portfolio. Then let them run wild with their imaginations.
Alternatively, you can create a classroom writing portfolio. The theme of the portfolio could change from week to week, and students would be required to post one piece each week and three responses.
8. Get-to-Know-You Network
Start this project during the first week of school. Similar to the creative writing portfolio, this one requires minimal direction. Simply require students to post a minimum number of times per week as well as respond a minimum number of times in the same period.
The content is also open for discussion and can focus on anything the students want to talk about. It doesn’t have to be creative writing or art or a presentation. It can be a video ranting about something that happened at home. It could be a personal essay asking their classmates to answer a question.
No matter the content, the intent is for your students to engage with each other at the beginning of the school year and move the discussion from the blogs to the classroom. One example is a classroom Tumblr, where all members of the class are followers of each others’ Tumblrs.
Tumblr gives students the opportunity to share things as well as create posts, sharing insights into their personalities.
9. Classroom News Site
Do you teach journalism? I did, but it never occurred to me to 10 years ago to put our school’s newspaper online. Yet, online journalism is quickly replacing newspaper journalism as one of the world’s top news funnels.
Current events are consistently one of the toughest subjects to engage students in—use blogging to make it easier. Choose a news vertical each week and ask your students to post an article about a current event in that vertical. It can be from local, state, national, or world news. You could also choose a subject: sports, technology, human rights, etc.
For younger students, make this project a pure classroom news project. Ask them to write articles about the goings-on in their classroom and at their school. No matter the grade level, require a minimum number of comments per week or grading period.
10. How Am I Doing?
Teachers always ask their students, “How are you doing?” We want to know if they’re struggling with an assignment, connecting with material, or just making it through the day. We rarely ask, “How am I doing?”
Yet, asking students to evaluate your teaching methods in class is one of the best ways to boost their concentration and engagement. You are, in a way, providing a service, and they are your customers. Allowing them the opportunity to give feedback can help them be better students and, in turn, makes you a better teacher.
Setting strict parameters on this project will keep this classroom support forum from turning into a free-for-all or negative comments. While you might be inclined to allow students to post anonymously, don’t let them. Knowing that their comments will be viewed by you and their classmates encourages students to post constructive feedback.
These 10 ideas are just the tip of the blogging iceberg when it comes to boosting engagement in classrooms. They can be adapted for a variety of grade levels as well as subjects. Pick one or two and give them a try and let the creativity shine.