blogging, Student-centered, students

10 + 1 Steps to Meaningful Student Blogging

IMG_2138Last summer, I had the pleasure of guest blogging for Middle Web and chose to do it on student blogging.  While I had started with a 14 step plan, I was able to revamp it a bit and bring it down to 11 steps.  Since then many educators have asked how to best get started with blogging, so I bring to you a re-posting of this popular post.

Four years ago I started blogging with my 4th grade students on a whim. I knew three things at the start: I wanted to get them connected with each other; I wanted to give them a voice, and I knew I had to change the way they wrote. So I started blogging with them – fumbling my way through the how to and the when to.

What I had no way of knowing was how blogging would change the way I taught, how blogging would give my students a way to speak to the world, and how blogs would make it possible for them to create lasting global connections with other children.

Blogging has since become an integral part of my classroom. It’s a way for me to check the emotional temperature of my kids and a way for them to add their voice to the continuing education debate and reach out to other communities.  We no longer just wonder how things are done in other countries. We blog and ask questions and get our answers.

So when I meet with any teacher who wonders how to lower the walls of their classroom and create more authentic learning opportunities, my first advice is to get students blogging.

If they’re interested, I share these steps. They grow out of my own experience working with upper elementary-aged kids, and I believe they can help any middle grades teacher successfully launch a blogging program and integrate it into the daily learning experience.

10 + 1 Steps to Meaningful Student Blogging

Here’s the checklist I follow myself at the beginning of each year, before I unleash my (now) 5th grade students’ voices to the world:

1. Figure out your why

You have to reflect on why it is you want to have students blog. Is it to make connections, for technology integration, to give your students a voice, or for some other reason? If you know the why it is much easier to get students excited about the blogging experience. I don’t feel that blogging should be just to show off student work; it can be something much bigger than that.  So figure out your reasons why before you move on to the how.

2. Pick your platform

I use Kidblog because of its accessibility, its wonderful safety features, and the ease with which I can adapt it to fit our purpose. While some feel (as a result of recent changes) that Kidblog is geared more toward early elementary students, I disagree. But it’s not the only safe and easy-to-use option: Edublogs is another popular student blogging platform that also comes highly recommended.

3. Get your permissions

Check with your principal, your tech coordinator, and finally get parent permission. You need to be prepared to explain and justify what you are doing — and be transparent throughout the conversation — to receive ultimate support for this endeavor. Student online safety is a predictable concern, and it’s much easier to be proactive, seek out these conversations, and present evidence that safety is easily assured and the learning rewards are significant.

I’ve created my own permission slip to ensure that parents feel well informed as they make their decision about whether to let their child blog. And I have yet to have a parent say no.

4. Blogging versus writing

I always introduce blogging by discussing how it is similar and different to writing. Students often get what blogs are but not necessarily how they can use one themselves. So I showcase my own professional blog and other students’ blogs to get them excited about the adventure they are about go on. We discuss what we can blog about, how long a post should be (as a minimum), and what to do about spelling and grammar. These discussions lead to heightened awareness of what is appropriate for a blog post and what isn’t and will also lead to the next step.

5. Discuss safety!

Before students ever log into their blog accounts for the first time, you have to discuss safety. I use the analogy of “Why the Internet is Like the Mall” to get students to really think about their online behavior and what they post. This is an in-depth discussion that covers many aspects of internet behavior, not just those that are specific to blogging. This is also not just a beginning-of-the-year conversation, but an all-the-time conversation.

6. Do a paper blog

Starting out on paper is a great way to introduce students to blogging and how they can add their own personal voice and flair. (It’s an idea I got from Karen McMillan.) By creating and personalizing a paper copy of their dream blog, my students have a tangible piece to work with while we learn the ins and outs of style, substance and safety. Once all of the paper blogs are done, students spend a class period leaving post-it comments on each other’s blogs as well as responding to the comments they themselves receive. This is a natural progression toward our next step . . .

7. Discuss commenting

For blogging to be effective, students need to know how to make good comments. Commenting on other blogs is one important way to grow an audience for your own blog. And when people comment on what you have written, you need to be prepared to respond with follow-up comments of your own. So we discuss how to create a dialogue in comments, how to thank people, and also how to give constructive feedback. We set up parameters for our posts and our comments in order to uphold a high standard of writing and we discover how commenting can (and should) become a conversation. We even act out comments from our post-its to see if they work well as conversation starters or act as dead ends.  Students quickly realize the power of a comment.

8. Start small

When students are finally ready to blog, have them introduce themselves.  That way, as your class starts to reach out to others (because ultimately blogging is about connections), students can showcase themselves and thus spark a conversation.

9. Connect with others.

Use quadblogging or a project like The Global Read Aloud to get students connected – or simply reach out to one or two other classes (preferably far away from you) to establish a blogging relationship. Once you get started, teachers can go on Twitter and use the hashtag#comments4kids to get comments for your students. Kidblog also has a wonderful feature called “Blogroll” where you can build a list of links to other blogs you like to follow in the margin of your own blog. My students use this all year as they check in with classes from around the world.

This is what gets the kids excited about blogging — it’s not just that they get to read other posts, they are able to establish a personal connection with other kids in faraway places, maintain that relationship throughout the year, and learn a lot about life in other parts of the globe.

10. Make it their own

Students need to feel genuine ownership of their blogs. I ask them for ideas of what to blog about; I give them free artistic rein over their posts, and I give them time to explore the blog’s tools and capabilities. This is what gives students ownership and has them take pride in their blogging. If it is truly their voice being heard in whatever fashion they want to present it, then they are eager to show it off.

Blogging has to be authentic for it to work. I don’t correct their grammar and spelling. I don’t require editorial changes unless something is likely to lead to hurt feelings or misunderstandings. I will ask them to add more or to explain further, but I give them the time to do so. I also challenge them with a weekly blogging challenge and then find time to do it in school. (Ideas for the challenge come from students or things I wonder about myself.)

11. Give it time

Great blogging and great connections don’t happen overnight, so give it time. Let the students develop as bloggers, celebrate their successes, and map their connections. Truly celebrate the blogging they do and spend time on it class. Encourage blogging but don’t make it an assignment to just get done. Treat it as an integral part of your classroom and watch it become one. Blogging is not just about writing, it is about bringing the world in and making it a little bit smaller.

In the end, blogging should not be a burden in your already full day. Students should love blogging, not see it as a chore (which is also why I never grade my students’ blogs) and they should be eager to express themselves and expand their worlds.

If you are ever in need of someone to connect to or ask questions, please reach out to me @pernilleripp on Twitter. I will gladly help. After all, blogging is about expanding our own comfort zones and creating authentic, global collaboration.

blogging, reflection, Student-centered

A Student Reflects on Blogging and Time

As you know my students are avid bloggers and this year is no different.  Their thoughts about the world, their lives, and what we do are reaching students and adults around the world.  Although they have a blogging challenge every week, many times my students choose to blog on their own whatever their thoughts may be.  I was thrilled to see this reflective post from Rose, as she battles with a question that many of us battle with.

Rose writes:

It’s not what it sounds like.I’m writing on my IPAD again, and I was just thinking, blogging is hard. I know I sound crazy, but it kind of is, you would think that you just hop on the computer and write about exciting events. maybe that happens to other people, but I think it can be difficult to balance it all. To blog, you need something exciting that is worth writing about, but you can’t write about things if you are out doing those exciting things.

I run on Tuesdays and Thursdays for 2-ish hours, and I dance every other Wednesday  I could sit here typing all about how we learned a mini dance to Applause. I could say how I ran over two miles on both Tuesday, and Thursday. Bu when I get home, I’m tired from doing those things. Or I just don’t have time. Don’t get me wrong, I love blogging, even on my old IPAD. I wouldn’t stop. But it is hard, sometimes.

Mostly the time part, I barely have the time or energy to blog sometimes, never the less comment!! All the people commenting on my, and my friends blogs, my figurative hat is off to you. How do you do it? I believe I will go comment on some blogs now, because I have the time and energy.

If you’ve the time, then please comment and honestly, tell me how you do it, how you manage to read blogs, comment on blogs, and presumingly, blog. I really would like to know.

So how do we do it?  Where do we find the time and why is it important?  You can comment here or directly on Rose’s blog.



blogging, student blogging, Student-centered

Paper Blogs: A Lesson in Commenting on Student Blogs





We have been hard at work on our paper blog as we prepare to unveil the actual blog experience this Friday.  One of the essential things I do (and tweak) every year is the using paper blogs to get my 5th graders to think about how to comment, and more specifically how to start a conversation with their comments.  While the idea is not mine, I borrowed it from McTeach, it has developed over the years into something I love doing and find essential as we prepare to blog and converse with the world.

The whole idea is very simple.

Creating the blogs:

  • Show students samples of previous years’ paper blogs to give them a visual of what to expect.  I accidentally kept one class set a year so I have a great variety of blogs that I lay out on tables so they can see and read them.  Otherwise, I take pictures of them year and after year and have those ready as well if needed.
  • There are a few rules here:  It should showcase something the students are passionate about, it should include their name, and every paper blog should have a border.   I also ask students to write their “post” in pencil first so that I may check their spelling.  We want to emphasize spelling in their blog posts from the start.
  • Students are encouraged to be creative with their title, their layout, and what they write.  We discuss what would make a great introductory post and how they can let their readers know what their blogs will be about.  I have students choose all sorts of things they are passionate about:  The Badgers, various sports, books, ribs, their family, dogs etc.
  • I tend to give them several class periods to work on these since it is a nice break in the hectic schedule of beginning of school and it allows me to see what pace students work at.

When blogs are done:

  • When most of the blogs are done, we get to the main point of the lesson:  Commenting – this is why I do all of this.
  • Students are each given a pad of post-its and lay their paper blog out on their table.  Then armed with post-its they walk around and read each others’ blogs.  On a post-it they are asked to leave a comment and sign their name.  This is in order to teach them that comments should never be anonymous, they need to stand behind their words.
  • We have discussed what makes a great comment in previous lessons so I only ask them to remind me.
  • I give the students 15 to 20 minutes to walk around and comment.

After the walk-around

  • Once time is up students return to their blogs.  If they have comments with questions on them, they answer the question and pass the post-it back to the person who wrote it.  This symbolizes the conversation that could take place.
  • I then ask for a student volunteer who helps me act out the conversations we will have based on post-its I have grabbed from the blogs.
  • I want the students to understand the difference between a “dead end” comment and a “highway” comment.  Dead end ones end the conversations and may include the standard “I like your post” comments.  Highway comments include comments that ask questions, share experiences, and link back to their own blog (here by leaving a name).  Because we act these out, the students quickly get what makes for a better comment
  • We wrap up the whole experience by creating another reminder poster of what makes a great comment and students either bring their blogs home or I showcase them in the hallway. photo 1

I am a passionate 5th grade teacher in Wisconsin, USA, proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classroom Back to Our Students Starting Today” will be released this fall from PLPress.   Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

being a teacher, blogging, student blogging, Student-centered

What Does Student Blogging Exactly Do?

As a proponent of student blogging I am often asked what it “does” for my students.  The thing is, it does quite a bit.

  • Provides them with a voice.  Education cannot be done to students anymore, they have to have a voice since it is their lives it effects the most; blogging gives them that.
  • Gives them an authentic writing audience.  The product doesn’t end with me and a grade, it is out for the world to see and to continue to be developed.  
  • Puts their place in the world in context.  We think our students know how much in common they have with kids their age around the world, but they don’t usually.  Blogging with those kids and connecting through projects such as the Global Read Aloud brings the world in.
  • Increases their global knowledge.  Again, when you connect with others through your work and words, friendships develop and as does a mutual interest in the lives of one another   This is the modern version of penpals.
  • Instills them with tech saviness and confidence.  Blogging teaches my students yet another tool to use and we also use it to showcase other tools we have played around with.  They feel confident in their skills as bloggers and it carries into their overall tech approach.
  • Instills safety rules and measures to be taken whilst online.  We drill safety all year and the kids know the lessons by heart.  It is our job to teach them how to be safe and the best way to do that is to work with them in situations that could be unsafe if treated the wrong way.
  • Teaches them how to give constructive feedback.  We comment on each others posts but they have to be constructive comments.  Blogging is a natural extension of the peer edit.
  • Teaches them how to have a meaningful written dialogue.  When students don’t get comments on their posts, we often go back to see why not.  Usually they realize it was not written in a manner that invited others to participate in their writing.  Revision and reformulating follows.
  • Cements proofreading and spell check.  We don’t want the world to see us as a poor spellers or grammatical buffoons.
  • Expands their geographical knowledge.  We pushpin maps with the location of our connections, this sparks more questions, which lead to a deeper relationship between the students and those we connect with.  
  • Furthers their empathy, as well as interest in others.  Blogging should not be a solitary experience, but rather one that invites discussion.  To have meaningful discussions one must care about others, which is shown through their questions.
  • Encourages them to view their own writing through a more critical lens.  Because we have a portfolio of their writing from the beginning of the year to now, we can go back and see their development.  Are they developing as a writer or what do they need to focus on?  The stakes are raised because it is not just the teacher that sees their work.
  • Creates reflective students.  Because students are given a mouthpiece to the world, I see them take more chances to reflect on themselves and their choices.  It is remarkable to see a student reflect on what grades has taught them  or what it means to be a student.
  • It creates opportunities for us to have fun.

blogging, i, student blogging, students

Ideas for Integrating a Student Blog into Your Curriculum

One thing I have loved about blogging and what it does for my students is how easily it has been to integrate it into our curriculum.  I knew when we started that I didn’t want an extra layer of “stuff to do” because we already have too much “stuff to do.”  So if I were to have my students blog, it had to be as authentic and as meaningful as possible, without it becoming another homework burden.  With that in mind, here are some beginning ideas for integrating blogging into your classroom.

  • Those daily journal responses we have to do as part of writers and readers workshop, those go on our blog instead for those who choose it.  Some students prefer to type, others relish the pencil and paper, I love that they have a choice.
  • Writing about our reading.  I love when students write about the books that they read or give recommendations.  When we blog about that it opens up a dialogue, rather than a static finished product.  Here students can become experts on their books and connect with others that loved it (or hated it) just as much as they did.
  • Science detectives.  I love adding video cameras and digital cameras to our lessons.  They offer students a different way to document their learning and they always provide me with a much deeper insight of what students now versus a worksheet.  So why not post it on our blog for others to see and learn with us.  This is a great a way for parents to see what is happening, as well as for the kids to be questioned by other classes or scientists.  This adds a whole other dimension to our experiments.
  • Editorials or just plain old opinions.  I love when students use their blogs to form, discuss or expand on their ideas.  Our blogs are used to comment on the happenings in the classroom.  I ask the students to become reflective learners and process their role as a student.  It never ceases to amaze me what I learn from students when they open up on their blog.
  • Deepening social studies.  I believe in project based learning and social studies lends itself incredibly well to this.  So I encourage students to expand their thinking about their project through their blogs, as well as to post finished products if “postable.”   
  • Group writing.  I love it when students write blog posts together, whether it be for a story or to share a common experience.  Blogging as a team or group shows off their ability to conform to a common voice while adding individual flair.
  • Reporting on events.  When we go anywhere or take a virtual field trip I ask students to share their experiences, show of their expertise, and give me their honest opinion.  Field trips don’t end after you get back, they should be digested and discussed and blogging is a great medium for that.
  • Furthering their mathematical thinking.  I used to have students do exit slips on which they explained something we learned in their own words and while I still use them once in a while, I love using our blog instead.  I have students create a problem that fits into what we discussed and then solve it for, or explain their thinking behind the problem.  We can then invite others into our math class and students get to share their knowledge.
  • Let me know how I am doing.  While not part of our curriculum, this is a huge factor in the success of our classroom.  Students have to have a mouthpiece in education and by voicing their opinions on our blogs we are able to engage other educators and students in the debate.  Change starts with us, so we should be providing students with an outlet for their opinions.
These ideas are beginnings, there are so many things you can do with student blogs, you just have to jump in and look for the natural fits in your curriculum.  Students don’t need more work, they need more authenticity in their educational experience.  Blogs can help us do that.
blogging, kidblog, student blogging, writing

6 Steps to Better Student Blogging

image from icanread

When I started blogging with my students, I had no idea what I was doing.  I knew I wanted them to write, I knew I wanted them to connect, and I knew I wanted them to reflect openly on many issues and not just blog their writing assignments.  Sometimes their blogs blew me away and other times I wanted to encourage them to hit delete rather than publish.  Over the years as I have seen our blogging reach a wider audience, we have fine-tuned what it means to blog and it is something that I continue to work on with every batch of new students.  So how can you take your blogging from just writing to actual global collaboration and reflection, well, these tips may help.

  1. Be a blogger yourself!  I show this blog to my students and we discuss what I do to keep an ongoing dialogue going.  We discuss what my writing looks like and who I am writing for.  The students notice the care I take with my posts and also that I (usually) comment back.  Because I am dedicated to my own blog, I know how much work it is and also how fulfilling it is.  Why would you ever ask students to bare their souls if you haven’t bared your own?
  2. Make it authentic.  Yes, I have students write about curriculum once in a while, but rarely is just a typed up version of something they already wrote.  So if you want them to blog about an in-class topic such as science, how about making them keep a science inquiry diary where they discuss and reflect on their discoveries and answer questions from others?  
  3. Discuss the difference.  We tend to assume that students know the difference between blogging and writing but they usually don’t.  So make a chart, a list, a poster, something and use the students’ own language to discuss the similarities and differences.  Post it and bring it up again, particularly if you see students’ writing not developing the way it should.
  4. Create expectations.  Again, ask the students; what should a great blog post look like?  Then hold them to it.  I have certain requirements the students have to follow and they also add their own to them, after all, this is being published to the world.  While I would not have my students write a rough draft and then type that up, I believe we can hold them to a certain standard when it comes to their blogging.  It should be punctuated correctly, spelled mostly correctly, and it should be a blog post, not just a couple of lines.
  5. Make the time for it.  And keep it!  I have an urge to blog most days and I do wait until inspiration strikes, however, that takes training in a sense.  I love to blog and I love the conversations that follow blog posts, but this is something I have grown accustomed to.  I didn’t start out that way and neither do most of my students.  So dedicate class time to blog, discuss their blogs, and celebrate the comments the students get.  Make it a big deal because it is!  When we grow complacent about our student blogs, they lose their deeper meaning and students can take the global connections aspect for granted.  The blog then becomes just another forced writing assignment.  So make them a big deal and keep them that way.
  6. Prepare, Discuss, and Reflect.  Before you start blogging, do all of the necessary preparation.  Then while you blog discuss how it is going, fine-tune the expectations, and maintain a blogging presence in the classroom.  Reflect once in a while; how is the blogging going?  Should we take a break?  Have students run the discussion, it is there hearts and minds on the line, not yours.

If you need more help, please visit my blogging resource page.  I even have a letter for parents on blogs that you can get here.  But in the end, if you do student blogging right, it may just turn into one of the most rewarding experiences for the students and for you.  And even if you don’t do it right, it is never too late to fix it.  Happy blogging!