Quality Student Blogs Part Two – Post Topics

Last week I wrote about how students with their own blogs can be guided to create quality posts.

After I published my post, I showed my class the less ideal post example I used about dogs. It was so interesting to get their opinions on the fictional post. Seeing their “shock” at the lack of proofreading, lack of content and the use of multiple exclamation marks etc. was quite amusing! It made me realise that we have created a classroom culture where students aim for high standards.

When students in my class earn their own blog, I generally have a chat to them about the sort of posts they’d like to write about. Some students like to make blogs with a particular theme, such as cooking or sport. More often than not, students like to create blogs with a variety of post topics.

A common pattern

Without guidance or discussion, I have found that students can get into the habit of writing blog posts such as

  • My family
  • My pets
  • My friends
  • My favourite sports
  • My favourite animals
  • My favourite books
  • My favourite foods….

The “My Favourite…” theme can go on and on!

I saw this pattern emerge many times before realising the students could be encourage to “think outside the square”.

Be observant 

Linda Yollis recently gave one of my new student bloggers some excellent advice, “You mentioned that you are thinking about future topics…. I also recommend just being observant. Sometimes posts come from something you notice in your backyard or on a drive somewhere. For example, I sometimes do posts about plants in my backyard or something new I noticed in my neighborhood. Hobbies are also a wonderful topic.”

I think writing about what you observe is a wonderful tip for student bloggers. Encouraging curiosity and the exploration of something new could help a student grow in so many ways.

Think about your audience

Another element that is important for student bloggers to understand is that your blog is not only about you and what you like, but about your readers too. Readers = comments = interaction = learning and growth!

Blogging is different from traditional writing or journalling; you are writing for an authentic audience.

Students need to think about whether their post topics are interesting for themselves and their readers. They also need to provide enough background information to help their reader understand the context of the post.

Fresh ideas

I recently helped a student think of some ideas for post topics. Here are some of the ideas that we came up with….

  • A recipe with photos and instructions that others could follow
  • A movie or book review
  • A restaurant, hotel or tourist attraction review
  • A poem or short story
  • Instructions to do …. anything
  • A discussion on what you’re learning at school
  • List of some of your favourite websites with details
  • A family tradition
  • What makes you happy/angry/laugh….
  • My dream holiday
  • Make a poll where readers vote on your next post topic

Role models

It’s great for students to look to other students as role models. Just a few examples include:

Bianca – 2012 is Bianca’s third year of blogging after starting in my grade two class in 2010. She is a regular poster who has formed some strong connections with teachers, students and parents overseas.

Jarrod – this student was in my grade two class in 2011. He continues to blog in a non-blogging class and uses a wide variety of tools.

Miriam – this student established her blog when she was in Linda Yollis’ class. She continues to create regular posts that are very interesting and well written. Continuing the family tradition, Miriam’s younger sister, Sarah, also blogs.

Royce – this boy also earnt his blog while in Linda Yollis’ class. Every couple of weeks, he creates a new post with interesting information or observations.

'Rosie the Blogger' www.flickr.com/photos/9106303@N05/2493066577

What ideas or advice do you have for student blog posts?

Quality Student Blogs Part One – Posts

As I have written about before, I have a system in my classroom where students can earn their own blog. Adapted from Linda Yollis’ idea, I have found the system to work well in both my grade two and grade four classes.

Recently, six 4KM and 4KJ students were the first to earn their own blogs for 2012. They join a couple of student bloggers in our class who were in 2KM or 2KJ in 2010.

Teaching about and encouraging quality comments is a big part of our classroom blogging program. It is the first blogging skill we teach students and we invest a lot of time in this process. I have found that quality commenting allows the students to improve their literacy skills and engage in meaningful conversations on the blog.

Teaching students about creating quality blogs and writing quality blog posts is another area that needs explicit teaching and ongoing feedback. 

Over a series of blog posts, I will look at aspects of quality student blogging.

What makes a quality student blog post?

Over the years, I have discovered my own definition of quality by working with my student bloggers.

Left to their own devices, I have seen many students create posts like this.

While enthusiasm is high, this is not the sort of work I’d like my students to aim for. I believe the following areas need attention.

  • Overuse of glitter text – very tempting for young bloggers!
  • Unnecessary post introduction. I find many student bloggers want to start each post with “Today I am going to talk about…”
  • Lack of content. I would encourage this student to either research some information about dogs or write a personal reflection on their dog.
  • Lack of proofreading and overuse of exclamation marks.
  • Use of unattributed, copyright image from Google Images.
  • Limited interaction with reader (ie. they could end the post with some questions).
By contrast, below is a post by Jarrod who is still blogging (in a non-blogging class) after being in my grade two class in 2011.

Jarrod has
  • Written about a topic that interests him, and would also be useful to others (game review).
  • Used text and images without overdoing coloured fonts or glitter text.
  • Proofread his work with an adult and corrected most errors.
  • Included a link to the game he was reviewing.
  • Ended his post with questions for his readers. Not surprisingly, Jarrod received 29 comments on this post.

Tips for writing quality posts

Helping students to create high quality blog posts is an ongoing process. I don’t teach them about every aspect of quality blogging as soon as they begin. Teachable moments often occur as students travel along their blogging journey.

Some of the tips I give student bloggers include:

  • Write posts semi-regularly such as every week or two. People might not have a chance to read posts that are published too close together. Readers might forget about your blog if you leave too long of a gap between posts.
  • Write about something that you are interested in but also something that will interest others. I will write more about chosing post topics in an upcoming post.
  • Reply to all/most of your commenters. Readers will be encouraged to comment again if their comment is acknowledged or if they engaged in a conversation.
  • Don’t overdo glitter text and keep fonts consistent and easy to read. Yellows and fluro colours are generally very hard to read.
  • If you want to use images, use creative commons images, screenshots or your own photos/artwork. I have written about teaching students to use creative commons images here.
  • Make posts easy to read. Left aligning text, using paragraphs, subheadings and/or dot points all helps the reader take in your post more easily.
  • Experiment with web 2.0 tools to make your posts interactive and engaging. In the past, I have explicitly taught students about some tools and also encouraged them to find their own new tools that meet their needs.
  • End posts with questions to provide readers with commenting prompts. Formulating questions that a variety of readers could answer is a skill that we like to help our students develop.
  • Proofread and check your facts before publishing. One of my student bloggers recently wrote a post about my upcoming visit to the USA without checking his facts. He wrote that I was going to stay at one of Linda Yollis‘ student’s houses! This was definitely a teachable moment.

What tips would you give to help student bloggers construct quality posts?

Look out for my next post about quality student blogs!

Photo Slideshows in Blog Posts

Start small

When you start blogging it is important to start small and try to not be overwhelmed by what other people are doing. With time, support, perseverance and inspiration, your blog will continue to grow and improve.

When I first started blogging with my students in 2008, we wrote very simple posts containing text and images. From there we began to learn about different web 2.0 tools that can enhance posts by showcasing student work and creating a more interesting and interactive space.

Why slideshows?

When you are comfortable with using images in your posts, you might see the need to progress to a photo slideshow. A slideshow allows you to show more photos without creating a l-o-n-g post. It can also bring events alive by the use of captions, transitions and music.

The disadvantage of most slideshows is that they involve Flash so can’t be viewed on iDevices (I have found one solution to this if you read on).

Choosing a slideshow

I often get asked about the best and easiest tool to use for photo slideshows in blog posts. There are a number of options I use depending on what type of slideshow I’m looking for.

As most online tools are 13+, I generally just have a teacher account. This means I either have children help me make the slideshow, or have the students take the photos and I put the slideshow together.

Tip: if you want to use these sorts of tools for your personal photos, it’s best to have two separate accounts – a professional one and a personal one.

There are many options out there but here are just five free and effective slideshow tools:

PhotoPeach

This tool is very intuitive to use. You simply upload photos, add music and write some captions to create an effective looking video style slideshow. Find more detailed instructions on how to use PhotoPeach here.

This is a PhotoPeach that we made for our class blog last week after a visit from the Geelong Cats football players.

 ***

PowerPoint to authorSTREAM/SlideShare

If you want photos that readers can click through at their own pace, one option is to insert photos into a PowerPoint and upload it to a PowerPoint sharing website. You can find the instructions on how to add a photo album to a PowerPoint presentation on the Microsoft Office website here.

I like authorSTREAM because of its clean, uncluttered design but there are many hosting options. This is a photo slideshow we put on our class blog to show our classroom transformation over the Christmas holidays.

 ***

Flickr Slideshow

Flickr is a very popular photo storage and sharing site. The downside of Flickr is that you can only upload two videos and 300MB worth of photos per month, and only your 200 most recent photos are shown. Photos are also stored as lower resolution. Like many web 2.0 tools, there is a paid pro account available without these limitations.

I found out about Flickr slideshows from Shawn Avery, who often uses them on his class blog. Flickr slideshows are clean looking and easy to use. Sometimes you want a simple photo slideshow without music and transitions; this is a good option. Find the instructions on how to embed a Flickr slideshow here.

I made this sample Flickr slideshow to demonstrate what it looks like.

 ***

SlideMyPics

SlideMyPics uses HTML5 which allows you to create a photo slideshow that people can view on their iDevice. With a large number of people now using iPhones, iPods and iPads to access blogs, this is something to consider when putting slideshows in your posts.

To use this tool, you have to first upload photos to either Facebook, Flickr, Photobucket, Picasa or SmugMug. You can add transitions and music from YouTube if you like.

I just made this sample slideshow to show what an embedded SlideMyPics slideshow looks like.

 ***

Animoto for Education

Animoto allows you to easily turn photos (and video clips) into videos complete with effective music and transitions. Animoto for Education gives teachers free access to premium features. Find an Animoto tutorial on Shawn Avery’s blog.

Animoto isn’t a tool I use overly often but my student bloggers love it. Here is an Animoto I made for our Ugandan Global Project in 2010.

 ***

Other options

Some slideshow options don’t allow you to view full screen photos within the blog. They direct you to the source website. Two of these are Smilebox and Picasa Slideshows.

If you are interested in a step-by-step description of how to use Picasa Slideshows, check out this post by Janet Moeller-Abercrombie on The Edublogger website. Her idea on how to integrate this tool in the classroom blog for parent access is excellent.

There are many more photo slideshow options out there. What would you recommend?

All You Need to Know about Educational Blogging

Readers of this blog will know that educational blogging is one of my passions.

I receive many questions from teachers each week about blogging via email, this blog, Twitter or in person. While I love helping other educators, sometimes the best way to answer a question is to point them to a post I have written on the topic.

Over the past couple of years I have written many posts about educational blogging. I have a page on this blog with an archive of all of these posts sorted into categories. Feel free to browse it at your leisure and pass the link on to other teachers.

Educational Blogging Page

What questions about blogging would you like to see answered in an upcoming post?