Writing Lesson: Better Blogs
Students explore blogs and learn about best practices for this type of writing. They gain information literacy skills that help them become educated consumers of this digital medium.
Students will be able to identify blogs of different types, purposes and levels of credibility.
Students will be able to identify how blog writing differs from other forms and styles of writing.
Students will explore the concept of “blogging ethics.”
Students will practice blog writing (on a world event).
Students will offer feedback on the blogs of classmates and practice appropriate commenting.
History, language arts, creative writing, persuasive writing, current events, blog, blogging, information literacy, 21st-century skills
Student Internet access for reviewing blogs (and if possible, posting of actual student blogs via a platform such as KidBlog, EduBlogs or 21Classes)
(If platform for actual blogging is not available) Pencils or pens, paper (or computer access for word processing)
(If platform for actual blogging is not available) Large lined sticky notes (or small pieces of lined scrap paper), masking tape
Student access to print or online information on a significant world event
An explosion in the number of Web sites and the mass availability of blogging tools have blurred the lines between journalism, opinion and pure fiction. Is every blogger a journalist, whether or not s/he is employed by a media outlet? Is there, or should there be, such a thing as “blogging ethics”? What constitutes a credible and well-written blog? What forms of “etiquette” are involved when commenting on a blog? These are the 21st-century questions that students will need to answer in order to develop information literacy and become educated consumers in the digital age.
After going over the basics of blogging, students will be given the task of composing their own blog entry about a world event. Students also will have the opportunity to comment on classmates’ blog posts.
Blogs, by definition, exist on the Internet. For the purpose of this assignment, however, entries can be submitted on paper. If you have involved students in actual blogging in the past and have the school administration’s approval, student entries may be published online as real blog posts. (Recommended student blogging platforms include KidBlog, EduBlogs and 21Classes. For a reasonable fee, teachers can set up a class account on one of these platforms. In the interest of safety, security settings allow teachers to restrict access to student blogs.)
This lesson can be done in three to five class periods and consists of six activities (including four recommended ones and two optional ones):
Class Discussion: Blog Basics
What is a blog? How is blog writing different from other forms of writing?
A blog (short for “Web log”) is simply a Web publishing platform that presents the most recently published content at the top of a Web site, followed, chronologically, by older content vertically down the page. Blog entries (much like mini journal entries) tend to be fairly short but sometimes are as long as several thousands of words. NBC’s World Blog is an excellent example of a legitimate news blog, as is CNN's Global Public Square and The New York Times' The Lede. Teacher Melanie Transue's page contains good examples of student blog posts.
Blog styles usually fall somewhere on a continuum between traditional journalism (such as an op-ed piece that night appear in a print newspaper) and a personal diary. The purpose of blogs also varies widely. Blogs often express personal opinions, experiences and perspectives regarding an event or a source of information (e.g., here's a link to this great article I found, and here's what I think of it). The writing style tends to be less formal (unlike a structured essay), and bloggers often have the aim of engaging reader participation via commenting.
What function do blogs serve in a democratic society?
Consider the opinion of Yale University student Leah Anthony Libresco: “Blogs inform and empower ordinary citizens by allowing related data to be synthesized quickly and comprehensively and by making it easier for citizens to share their new opinions with friends or elected officials. In the blogosphere, you're only a hop, skip and a link away from sending form letters to send congresspeople or joining a meetup for a protest. Democracy depends on lowering the barriers to becoming informed. Although blogs are a great resource for the wonky, policy-making elite, their real power lies in their ability to provide broad overviews of the issues at stake and quick links for citizen activists.”
In terms of the impact of blogging on traditional media, also consider BBC News Editor Helen Boaden’s blog post The role of citizen journalism in modern democracy, as well as the extensive reader comments that follow the post.
What makes a good blog post?
At a minimum, a blog post should have a focused topic, be informative and engaging, and include some form of backed-up opinion. Posts should be provocative, yet respectful. Sometimes posts can reference other sources of online information, offering the reader the opportunity to investigate the topic further. Good blog posts often inspire readers to comment on the post.
QuickSprout and ProBlogger have good tips for creating quality blog content, while this source offers information on assessing student blogs.
If desired, have the class develop a “blog quality assessment” checklist which they use to complete activity 2 and to frame their own blog posts. You might use the Blog Evaluation Assessment as a starting point and have the class add additional criteria.
What are blogging ethics? Should bloggers be governed by such “rules”?
Blogs are posted in a public space. As such, consider whether there are rules of ethics or etiquette that responsible bloggers should follow. “Martin,” a blogger and media researcher, proposed the following “Code of Blogging Ethics.” (NOTE: Some of these criteria will not apply to the students’ actual assignment, but are valuable to discuss nonetheless.)
--Post to your blog on a regular basis
--Visit and post on other blogs
--Respect blog etiquette
--Attempt to be entertaining, interesting, and/or relevant
Promote Free Expression
--Do not restrict access to your blog by specific individuals or groups
--Do not self censor by removing posts or comments once they are published
--Allow and encourage comments on your blog
Strive for Factual Truth
--Never intentionally deceive others
--Be accountable for what you post
Be as Transparent as Possible
--Reveal you identity as much as possible (name, photo, background info, etc.)
--Reveal your personal affiliations and conflicts of interest
--Cite and link to all sources referenced in each post
Promote the Human Element in Blogging
--Minimize harm to others when posting information
--Promote community by linking to other blogs
--Build relationships by responding to e-mails and comments regularly
(Optional) Student In-Class or Homework Assignment: Blog Review
Students review sample blog posts, evaluate their quality and credibility (using a “blog quality assessment” checklist, if desired) and take notes on what they liked and didn’t like about each post. Students can also rate the appropriateness of reader comments, if they are present in a particular post. (Teachers will want to select and bookmark [or print out] specific posts of varying quality levels ahead of time, and if applicable, scan links, ads and reader comments associated with the post to ensure they are all appropriate for a student audience.)
Since anyone can blog, posts vary tremendously. Here are a few diverse selections that may be useful for the purpose of comparison and critique (some are no longer actively updated): BasketballJones, Office Administration Career Blog, EnGadget and GoodFoodandTravel.com.
(Optional) Class Discussion: Critique of Posts
--How do the sample blog posts reflect (or not reflect) elements of good blog writing?
--What did you learn about blogs by viewing the samples?
Student In-Class Activity or Homework Assignment: Plan Your Own Post
Using print or online information, students research the significance of a world event and formulate an opinion. Write a blog entry in response to the event. (If you’d like student posts to be anonymous for the purpose of activity 5, ask students to submit two copies of their post—one labeled with their name and one without a name.)
Give students parameters for the post including required elements and approximate word count. If the class developed a “blog quality assessment” checklist as part of activity 1, students can write their posts with these criteria in mind.
Student In-Class Activity: Now Let’s Blog
If actual blogging capabilities are not available, post student blog entries (anonymously, if desired) on the wall around the classroom. Have students do a “gallery walk” to read classmates’ blog entries. Using sticky notes or scrap paper, students write and post comments in response. Commenters should identify themselves by name and make sure they are courteous and appropriate. (Teachers should note that in the online world, readers can report inappropriate comments, and certain comments may be removed if they violate good taste.) Teachers can specify a minimum number of posts (e.g., five) on which each student must comment.
Class Discussion: What Did We Learn?
--What did we learn by reading classmates’ blog entries?
--What feedback can we offer regarding whether the entries reflected elements of good blog writing? (If students developed a checklist as part of activity 1, the gallery walk [or review of actual online blog posts] can include making formal ratings of posts.)
--What did we learn by commenting? Were our comments appropriate, and did they serve to advance discussion?
--Which posts generated the most comments? Why do you think this is?
--How did blogging and commenting help us make sense of the world event?
--How did this activity reflect the democratic process?
Student blog entries are evaluated in terms of the following:
Writing quality (everything from grammar to interest level and other elements of good blog writing)
Accuracy of information
Expression of opinions; persuasiveness
Use of facts to back up opinions
Ability to promote commenting and discussion
Adherence to “blogging ethics”
Understanding of the context and importance of the world event
NOTE: If the class has developed a “blog quality assessment” checklist, evaluate student posts using these criteria (use the Blog Evaluation Assessment as a starting point). Alternately, see sample blog rubric 1 or sample blog rubric 2.
Student comments are evaluated in terms of the following:
Insight; understanding of the blog’s content
Etiquette and appropriateness
Expression of opinions; persuasiveness
Use of facts to back up opinions
Understanding of the context and importance of the end of the war in Iraq (or other world event)
Jason Tomaszewski, EducationWorld Associate Editor
NSS-WH.5-12.6 The 20th Century Since 1945
NL-ENG.K-12.1 Reading for Perspective
NL-ENG.K-12.4 Communication Skills
NL-ENG.K-12.6 Applying Knowledge
NL-ENG.K-12.9 Multicultural Understanding
NL-ENG.K-12.12 Applying Language Skills
Standards for the 21st Century Learner (American Association of School Librarians [AASL])
Standard 1: Inquire, think critically, and gain knowledge.
1.1.5 Evaluate information found in selected sources on the basis of accuracy, validity, appropriateness for needs, importance, and social and cultural context.
1.1.7 Make sense of information gathered from diverse sources by identifying misconceptions, main and supporting ideas, conflicting information, and point of view or bias.
1.2.4 Maintain a critical stance by questioning the validity and accuracy of all information.
1.3.4 Contribute to the exchange of ideas within the learning community.
Standard 3: Share knowledge and participate ethically and productively as members of our democratic society.
3.1.4 Use technology and other information tools to organize and display knowledge and understanding in ways that others can view, use, and assess.
3.1.6 Use information and technology ethically and responsibly.
3.3.3 Use knowledge and information skills and dispositions to engage in public conversation and debate around issues of common concern.
Copyright © 2011 Education World