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When you hear the word “blog,” what do you think of? When blogs first started showing up on the internet, most were basically diaries, individual people’s personal musings on life. Although this is a perfectly legitimate practice, these early prototypes made many of us equate the word “blog” with something self-indulgent, writing that shouldn’t be taken seriously.
Since those early days the blog has really evolved as a genre: People have taken the basic framework of the blog and used it to build all kinds of useful, interesting things online. This evolution has given the blog limitless potential as a form of writing, and that’s just as true for student writers as it is for everyone else. So if you’re looking for a nice, meaty assignment, one that in previous decades might have been a research paper or an oral presentation, consider assigning a blog instead. It’s not only a highly relevant form of writing, but because it’s done entirely online and worked on over time, it would also lend itself beautifully to remote or hybrid learning.
To support you on this mission, I’m going to share six different kinds of blogs students could create, each of which could be written on thousands of topics and fit into plenty of different content areas. I’ll also explore some of the nuts and bolts—tools and practices that will help you do this work well. And finally, I’ll talk about how you might go about assessing student blogs.
Before we get into all that, let’s make sure we all understand our terms.
Let’s start by defining our terms. A website is basically any online “container” that houses at least a few pages of content. It’s possible to have a website that consists of nothing but a single page, but usually those exist simply because the people behind them opted not to use any additional features.
Your dentist, most likely, has a website. Most of the restaurants, mechanics, churches, and gyms in your town probably have websites. These sites typically consist of just a few pages: a home page that lists some general information, hours, the address, etc, and then a few more pages that provide more detail on the goods and services offered by the business, the staff, and maybe the history of the place. That’s basically it. All of those pages are more or less static, meaning the information doesn’t change regularly unless something about the organization changes (new staff members, new menu items or services, etc.).
A blog is part of a larger website, and what makes it unique is that it is dynamic. It changes. It’s regularly updated to provide new material. Some companies, like the kinds listed in the previous examples, might decide to add a blog to their regular website for the purposes of educating their clients or helping their customers get to know them. For example, a dentist’s website might put out regular blog posts offering tips on home dental care, reviewing toothbrushes, or sharing before-and-after stories of patients who received special services like laser teeth whitening. In most cases, though, these blogs aren’t chock-full of content because they’re just a supplement to the main thing, which is to give the reader information about the business.
Some websites, like my own, are more heavily focused on the blogging side of things. Yes, my site has a few static pages—like the one where I introduce myself and my staff—but the vast majority of the content on my site is blog posts. These blog posts are not just general musings about life, though. I made the decision when I started my site that it would be focused solely on education-related topics, with the main goal being to write posts that help teachers do their work better. Every other week I put out a new blog post—along with a podcast episode—on a different topic.
The internet is full of sites like mine, websites that use a blogging framework to regularly share content for an audience that will be interested in that specific topic. Most of them wouldn’t even call themselves “blogs.” Instead, they’d see themselves as websites that are content-heavy. Those are the types of blogs I’m focusing on here, the kind I think our students should be writing.
What follows are six different ways students could use a blogging platform to produce a collection of content. In many cases, that “content” is writing, but in some cases, it is another type of media. These blogs could be done just for school, but if they’re good, if the students want to, and if their parents give permission, the blogs could ultimately reach a wider audience and might even end up turning into a career.
This would be devoted to documenting a project from beginning to end. It would include a description of how the idea came about, any research and planning that happened, progress on the project at different stages along the way, the final result, and impacts or outcomes after the project was over. If your school does a lot of project-based learning or offers a genius hour program or an innovation class, this type of blog would be a natural fit.
What are your students passionate about? This type of blog features an ongoing series of posts around a single topic. Ideally, the topic will be broad enough so that it can include some sub-topics as well. This type of blog would be a good fit for a social studies or science class, if you wanted students to focus on a topic related to your content area.
This is designed to showcase a collection of the student’s work in one particular area. Along with each artifact, the student could also write an introduction or reflection on the piece to give insights into the creation process or their inspiration for the piece.
Like a magazine or newspaper, the goal of this type of blog would be to tell stories about things that are happening now. These stories can include photos or videos to supplement the writing, or they can be focused mainly on photos or videos with minimal text. Stories can be short and “newsy” or longer, magazine-style feature articles.
This type of blog would be comprised solely of reviews, where the writer (or group of writers) review new or established offerings in a particular category.
On this type of blog, the writer would simply give advice or instructions on how to do things. The topics could come from real readers, or the site creator could just make them up based on common problems they know people have.
Choose a platform where students can build their blogs.
Just like with a research paper or a presentation, a good blog will have a clearly defined focus. Here are some considerations:
Students who want to go beyond school with their blogs might consider these add-ons and tips:
Ideally, a student blog would be a long-term assignment, where students must come up with an idea and develop it over time, “submitting” the final blog for a grade, but getting a lot of feedback from you along the way as different posts are published.
When assigning a blog it’s important to define the criteria by which you’ll assess it. I strongly recommend you use a single-point rubric for assessing blogs; share the criteria with students ahead of time or better yet, co-construct the criteria with them.
Below are some criteria I think would be important to include in a rubric for student blogs. I’m sure there are many excellent blogging rubrics out there that address some characteristics I haven’t thought of, but this is what I have so far:
It’s often said that people don’t read and write anymore, that all we do is mess around on our devices. But I think we’re still reading and writing all the time; the delivery systems have just changed. And one of the most popular delivery systems in the 21st century is the blog. Regardless of what line of work our students go into later in life, there’s a high probability that they will be reading or writing blog posts as part of that work. Let’s embrace that: Instead of keeping it separate from school, let’s bring it in and give our students opportunities to get really good at it.