Empower Student Writers with a 20% Time Choice Blogging Project

Beat the midwinter blues with a 20% time choice blogging project. Read all about it at teach writing.org.

Ready to shake things up in your classroom? Beat the midwinter blues and the February blahs?

You've been hearing about genius hour. Also known as 20% time. Also known as "that thing Google does that makes its employees so much happier than everyone else's." 

This phenomenon empowers students to commit to something they care about, studying and exploring it under the guidance of their teacher, eventually presenting back to their classmates through some medium like a TED-style talk or a video presentation. 

Is there a way to bring this idea into writing instruction? Genius hour tends to be a wide open playing field, in which students commit to projects that run the gamut from creating drones to composing music to launching nonprofits. It's a beautiful thing to bring into any classroom, but not necessarily one with super directed writing benefits.

If you'd like to give your students some serious choice, and empower them to write about the topics that truly interest them, blogging just might be the thing for your classroom. Set aside one day a week for your 20% time project, and introduce students to the simple free blogging platform, Blogger

Empower student writers with a 20% time blogging project

When students blog, they get the chance to share their voices with a potential authentic audience of millions. With entrepreneurs of all stripes writing blogs these days and many large companies reaching their customers through blogs as well, it's easy for students to see that blogging is a tool of the real world. Not only that, it's a multimedia extravaganza that gives art and tech-focused students more genres to work with to complement their writing. 

Getting started on Blogger could not be easier. All you need is a gmail account and about five minutes to follow the steps at blogger.com to set up a web address, blog title, and blog template.  You can watch the video tutorial below for a full walkthrough.

The choice element comes in when you let students pursue their own interests in their blogging. They can write on ANYTHING (appropriate) and hone their skills joyfully. Topics can run the gamut from video game reviews to celebrity pets. Students can write about science, music, film, fashion, cooking, politics, you name it. When you give them the gift of choice, you are suddenly making writing oh-so-relevant to them. 

Begin by sharing some examples of wildly different popular blogs out there. Here's a short list for a quick class web tour:

Once you get students thinking about what they might like to write about, give them some time to search for blogs in their field. Invite them to spend twenty minutes searching "top blogs about the NBA," "best blogs about teen fashion," etc. and tour the results. Hopefully their imaginations are firing with ideas for how they could contribute a fresh voice to the conversation. 

Once students have selected a topic, you can roll out the structure of your project. Let them know that each Friday (or Monday, or every other Tuesday, etc.) you will be working on your 20% time project, choice blogging. Give them time to walk through the process of setting up a gmail account and a blogger blog, then have them send you the address of their blog.

At this point, set up a class blog on blogger and link each student's blog in a big list. This way you can easily access them all to check in and give feedback, as well as to showcase stellar student work to the class over your projector or on your Smart Board. You can also send students to this list and require them to comment on each other's blogs as a way of giving feedback.

Now you're set and ready to roll for the rest of the term or year. Each day you are working on your 20% time blogging project, you may wish to have a set type of posting assignment. When the students walk in, you can share the type of post you'd like them to write and an example or two from the web, then invite them to create their own. They can spend time in class working on their posts, then complete them before the next posting day. 

9 blog post ideas for student writers, from teach writing.org

Here are several types of posts you could work on together:

You could also set aside some time for students to develop their sidebars with images and links and explore Canva for creating graphics for their posts. The more they personalize their blogs and make them their own, the more invested they will be in putting something of true quality out into the world.

A note of caution, please do reinforce with your students that they should never share personal information on their blogs. Personal stories are fine, but no last names, addresses, phone numbers, etc. No one reading your students' blogs should be able to locate them.

Are you excited about all this, but feeling a tad nervous about the tech end? Wondering what you will do when students want to embed slideshares and create HTML widgets or try other things that you might never have done? 

Don't worry. Encourage your students to go beyond the realm of what is comfortable for them and for you. They can always Google "how to embed an audio clip on Blogger," "how to create a stop animation short film," etc. That is part of the point of 20% time/genius hour, to learn together and take leaps. Chances are, your students will quickly grow comfortable on the platform and help each other. And if they don't, you can always do a bit of Googling yourself, or ask a helpful tech-minded colleague to visit for a workshop day. 

If you're excited about blogging but don't feel you can commit to 20% time all year, you could also make this a stand-alone one or two week unit, and invite your students to continue on their own. Or check out this blog post for more ways to incorporate blogging into your curriculum throughout the year. 

I hope you decide to try this out! I have sincerely loved Blogger as a tool in my classroom for many years, and I think you're going to too. 

Got another great way of using blogs in the classroom? Leave a comment below and join the conversation! 

If you love the idea of a blogging unit, but are short on time to implement it, you can pick up my full curriculum  right here . 

If you love the idea of a blogging unit, but are short on time to implement it, you can pick up my full curriculum right here

5 Things you didn't know about the Author, Betsy Potash from Spark Creativity

  1. Her first blog documented her life teaching abroad with her husband in Sofia, Bulgaria. You can read about her adventures with packs of stray dogs, being the only guest at an incredibly fancy hotel in the Bulgarian mountains, riding the night train to Serbia, and much more right here
  2. There's nothing she'd rather eat than cake. Funfetti, quadruple chocolate, lemon-raspberry. You name it, she'll eat it.  
  3. Right now she's giving away a packet of five creative reading quizzes on her website and you can get them right here
  4. She'll take you down at ping pong. Unless of course you are a serious student of the table as well. In which case, game on. 
  5. She's kind of obsessed with her Instagram feed lately. It's just so much fun. 




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