Here are a few prompts to get the creative juices flowing for your secondary students, including several related to issues plucked from recent headlines. Some are for deep thinkers, others are…well…not so much. But writing should be enjoyable, anyway!
As of 2018, student loan debt in the US stands at over $1,500,000,000,000. The average cost of a public school bachelors degree is nearing $100,000, and a private school will set a graduate back almost $200,000. Is a 4-year college degree worth the price in today’s society?
Review the most recent book you read or movie you watched.
Are there situations when it is expected that we put on a different persona than our true selves? Is this a good or bad thing?
Describe your favorite sports-related moment.
What do you think of your schedule this year? Will you be able to focus on what is most important to you? How can it be more manageable?
What life lessons can be gleaned from Napoleon Dynamite?
What is your favorite musician or group? Why do you like them?
Recently, several prominent people have faced consequences for old social media posts (e.g. James Gunn, Guardians of the Galaxy director). Should we be held accountable for our words, even words spoken or written years ago?
Helen Keller stated, “The highest result of education is tolerance.” What do you think? Why is this true or untrue?
Describe a time when a personal failure became a positive experience.
In response to the ongoing debate over NFL players kneeling during the national anthem, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys recently stated that anyone wanting to play for his team would “stand for the anthem, toe on the line.” Should a private business owner be allowed to enforce a policy like this one?
Should all students be required to take algebra to graduate?
Watch the video below and discuss your views on homework. Do you feel teachers assign too much? Not enough?
What changes, if any, should be made to the current school dress code?
Would you be better or worse off if you were to get rid of all of your social media accounts?
Which is more important, creativity or knowledge?
If you could go to lunch (their treat!) with anyone, past or present, who would it be and why?
Would you be open to having a small computer implanted into your body to monitor your daily activities at all times, if the device promised to detect illnesses or other threats to your health at the earliest possible moment?
Complete the following using no more than 50 words: If you want to achieve greatness…
First of all, I’ll admit the obvious–I am biased. Blogging has become something that I cannot imagine doing without. It has given me a creative outlet, challenged me to test the validity of my ideas and educational beliefs, and expanded my network of peers. It has met and exceeded my expectations. The platform has continued to become more powerful, as well, giving me and my readers new and exciting ways to interact, such as threaded comments, video and audio comments, etc. It is enjoyable, challenging, and very, very rewarding. Blogging has become entrenched in society, with over 184 million users creating blogs worldwide, ever-increasing readership, and a continual move into more traditional mediums, such as newspapers, television stations, etc. The video below, by Rachel Boyd, does a great job of illustrating some of the benefits of blogging.
For these reasons and more, our students and teachers need to be both readers and creators of blogs. They are powerful tools for reflection, outlets for creativity, and foster critical reading and writing skills.
Ideas for Getting Started
Choosing a blog service
There are many blog services available to students and teachers, some of which cater specifically to the education crowd. Some services are free, while others require yearly or monthly subscriptions. Usually, the pay sites offer certain features that are not available on the free sites. Edublogs (the host of this blog), for instance, offers many extra plugins (such as video/audio comments, threaded comments, etc.) when you subscribe, and the cost is not exorbitant. Discounts are available for bulk subscriptions on Edublogs and many other sites, as well. For most users, though, free blogs are very valid and satisfactory tools. Some sites to check out are listed below (an asterisk indicates blogs specifically catering to educators).
Another option, and one that Jim Hirsch describes as the best option for schools, is to host their own blogs. WordPress is an example of a blogging platform that may be installed to a school or district’s own servers. This allows for far greater control over safety and content, and is much more likely to relax over-worried administrators.
Beginning a blog does not have to be a taxing or overly time-consuming process. While many advanced features exist, and many more are constantly being developed, the basic blog is nothing more than a tool for writing. Subject matter should be personalized, and topics can range from professional issues to hobbies and interests to issues facing schools or society. As Frank Catalano states, bloggers should ask, “Why are you going to do it? To reach individuals with critical information, to express opinions, to teach students writing skills, or simply as an outlet for personal frustrations?” The key is to pick your passion. Some possible topics for teachers might include:
Professional learning experiences
Sharing class/school news with parents and communities
Class discussion starters
Student topics might focus on:
Sharing classroom creative writing
Summarizing daily learning
Social issues and events
Finding an audience
An important next step for student and teacher bloggers is to actively seek readership for their blogs. While the act of writing in and of itself is worthwhile for many reasons, the power and importance of an actively reading and responding audience cannot be overstated. Will Richardson describes blogs as never being actually finished, because the conversations between authors and readers leads to revisions and refinements of ideas. Catalano echoes this, describing the positive effect on student writing of “the power of audience.” Having an audience provides incentive to continue writing, to write better, and stimulates ideas for future writing. Some suggestions for creating an audience for a blog are:
Communicate with friends, family, and associates, telling them about the blog and asking for their input. Use opportunities such as school parent-teacher nights, PTA meetings, etc. to spread the word.
Read and respond to others’ blogs, including the URL of your own blog when you do so. Many times, when comments are thoughtful and well-written, readers will click on the link to see what else the writer may have to say.
Use other tools, such as social networks, Twitter, etc. to inform visitors of the blog and new posts.
Register the blogs with sites such as Technorati, which allow visitors to search by topics.
Use tags. Tags categorize blog entries by topic, and they allow search engines to find blogs based on their subject matter.
Write about interesting topics and don’t shy away from controversy. Blogs are powerful mediums for expressing opinions and generating discussions.
Write frequently. Don’t let the blog sit idle for weeks or months at a time. Loyal readership can’t develop in a vacuum.
A good list of tips by professional bloggers for bringing in readers can be found on the DailyBlogTips site.
Ensure safe and responsible blogging
Before diving in, students (and teachers) should be educated on the rules of the blogging world. Safety and ethics are critical for all bloggers, but for children in particular. Some important concepts to cover include:
What information is/is not okay to share. While blogs may be very personal in terms of subjects, personally identifying information should never be shared by children bloggers.
How to manage comments. Identifying spam, responding to dangerous/inappropriate comments, etc. are skills students should learn, and the teacher should play an active role in modeling this and monitoring students’ comments.
Don’t make personal attacks. “Flaming” is an unethical practice, and, increasingly, it is being viewed by courts and law-enforcement as illegal. Teach students how to express differences of opinions or make revision suggestions civilly.
Observe copyright laws. The availability of vast resources of shared materials via Creative Commons licensing should mean that students never have to use video, images, etc. that lack the required permissions. Flickr, for instance, has a library of tens of millions of images that contributors have licensed for use, free of charge, by others. Also, teach them how to paraphrase and use quotations and how to credit sources.
Now, get to writing
Once these preparatory steps have been taken, the student or teacher simply needs to get started. Don’t worry about readership lacking in the beginning. As content and quality grows, the readers will come. In the meantime, critical literacy skills will be strengthened, and confidence in the medium will grow. As I can attest, it can be quite addictive. I recall vividly the first comment I received from a complete stranger, and the sense of excitement, validation, and empowerment that it gave to me even at my age (very young, of course!). Imagine the same powerful experiences for our students!
I have had to do several projects involving putting together examples of Web 2.0 use in our district in the past couple of weeks. I thought I would share a small sampling of them here. They might inspire others to give some of the tools a try.
Talented Texans–elementary students sharing writing. Student interaction is constructive and congenial.
History Rocks–high school students discuss social studies topics. Some really good debates in here!
Miss Ross–elementary teacher’s blog used as class portal. Lots of useful resources, such as curriculum information, calendars, instructional videos, etc.
Team Simmons–another elementary teacher’s homesite. Uses home page to facilitate literature discussions.
Marvelous Math–elementary blog used as extension of in-class math lessons and assignments. Students solve weekly problems.
Raider Nation–principal’s blog, used to share campus news and facilitate discussions for book studies and other topics.
Reading Is Fun–wiki created and maintained by middle school, pre-AP reading class. Includes book talks, image gallery, discussion board, and more.
ACFT Science Lab—huge wiki filled with teacher and student-created resources, including photo essay on silk worm moths, student video productions, more. Also includes useful page of student use guidelines.
Tech ALT–wiki set up to record and share work of district English/Language Arts teachers trying new technologies in their instruction.
Ram Science–class wiki for 6th grade science class. Includes variety of resources, including calendar, motivational quotes, Sketchcast shows, more.
Readers Theater–elementary students’ stories share in readers theater style.
Mr. Winans–student-created daily news/announcements podcast.
Homework Hotline–elementary class podcast details the day’s homework assignment.
Student video projects:
I have to admit, I was actually very taken aback by the degree to which the read/write web has been implemented into the curriculum of our district (This has only been a part of the conversation for a year-and-a-half!). I had only viewed it through the narrow perspective of the three campuses I have been primarily serving, and this was the first time I had truly gotten a glimpse of the big picture. Teachers and students alike have created some amazing content. The fire is definitely burning, and it should erupt into a full-fledged blaze next school year!
Here is a short, well-crafted slideshow created by Sacha Chua, an enterprise 2.0 specialist with IBM. It lists some very practical steps to blogging effectively for work, including doing lots of reading, sharing knowledge through writing, and tooting one’s own horn, so to speak, by sharing successes and accomplishments. Great focus on how blogs can be a tool for communication, teaching/learning, even career advancement.
Blogs are the first things that come to mind for most when the term Web 2.0 is heard. This is because blogging is one of the earliest internet tools that allowed for users to create their own content. Blogging is a big trend in our district, as administrators, teachers, and students are beginning to create a wide variety of blogs, from book discussions to classroom news sites to daily summaries of classroom learning. It has usually been a very rewarding and positive experience, although there have certainly been some valuable lessons learned. Some of the tools used in our district include Edublogs, Learnerblogs, Blogger, and Gaggle.
Blogging helps build numerous 21st century skills, including, but not limited to:
Communication and collaboration
Initiative and self-direction
Creativity and innovation
ICT (Information, Communications, and Technology) Literacy
Students have displayed great enthusiasm for blogging. The platform gives them a broad audience and the ability to receive input from many sources, not just the teacher. In terms of our district’s application of Working on the Work1 principles, blogs offer: novelty and variety; affirmation of performance; authenticity; affiliation; protection from adverse consequences for initial failures; and (when properly planned) clear and compelling product standards. Blogs allow students to create, to practice metacognition, to ask questions, and to communicate with a broad audience.
Blogs make excellent tools for summarizing and note-taking, which Marzanno2 describes as “two of the most powerful skills students can cultivate.”(Marzanno ) Research cited by Marzanno indicates that the impact of students developing these skills can be very dramatic, in terms of students’ performance on standardized assessments. Students can keep their own learning logs or summarize as a part of a larger group or class. Examples might be to summarize a day’s lesson, a book chapter, or a class experiment. When peer reviewing of classmates’ blogs is encouraged, important details are often filled in via comments or clarifying questions.
Blogging comments provide an easy opportunity to reinforce effort and provide recognition, as well. Students, teachers, parents, and other visitors can encourage student writing through supportive comments. Class blogs can link to particularly good examples of students’ work, bringing them further visits and attention.
Blogs, like almost all Web 2.0 tools, are great ways to foster cooperative learning. Students can use a blog to discuss questions related to collaborative projects, seek input on ideas, help with editing and fine-tuning of projects, and more. Cooperative team members can be assigned different tasks, such as editing posts, gathering relevant links, finding images/videos, or keeping groups focused on the assigned tasks.
Blogs are good tools for homework and practice. Teachers can ask questions which extend classroom learning, such as this entry from my wife’s class science blog. In this blog, a question is asked weekly, and students are expected to answer on their own time. This encourages a deeper understanding of concepts, additional resource, and new questions being posed. Teachers at Decatur (TX) Intermediate School created Eagle Science 101, another great example of this type of blog.
Students can also use blogs to test hypotheses and get feedback. When a teacher, for example, poses the question in the above example, “Why do you think so many fossils of aquatic animals are commonly found in our neighborhood?” students may hypothesize that it is due to predators moving them from their aquatic homes. Other students or the teacher can offer alternative ideas or leading questions to redirect the original hypothesis.
Blogs are fantastic tools that go far beyond their often perceived role of serving as a soapbox for sharing opinions with the masses. They address a number of classroom goals and can be used in ways that are research-proven methods of improving student achievement across the curriculum and on standardized tests, all while fostering 21st century skills and high student engagement.
Coming next: classroom wikis.
1Schlechty, Phillip C. Working on the Work: An Action Plan for Teachers, Principals, and Superintendents. San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass, 2002.
2Marzanno, Robert J. et al. Classroom Instruction that Works. New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc., 2005.