Engage Language Learners with Student Blogging – An International Student Collaboration

Writing student blogs can help language learners to improve both their writing and language skills.  If you allow students – especially language learners – to choose their blog topic they will be more motivated to engage with the target language in both reading and writing. Just as importantly, students care even  more about communicating clearly using the blog format because of the expanded audience – writing for the world is more engaging that writing for a teacher’s grade.  The following is from Banyan Global Learning’s Teacher Steve and reports on our success with a student blog unit for language learners:

Screen shot of Kevin's blog about cars.

Screen shot of Kevin’s blog about cars.

We were inspired by Kate Petty’s excellent presentation on student blogging at #CUE13 to do a project of our own. Building on the success of our international student collaborations, we decided to not only have our Taiwanese students write blogs in English but to make the unit our latest collaborative project.

After looking at WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr and some other sites, we decided that KidBlog was the best choice for this project.  It is very straightforward for both teachers and students and is a breeze to maintain.

Kidblog teacher interface.

Kidblog teacher interface.

Now it was time for the kids to start blogging!  First, they brainstormed and chose a topic.  We then had them write three separate blog posts about that topic:

The Introduction Post:

The students introduced themselves and their topic.  The goal here was to convince their reader that they should take the time to read their posts.

Rita's introduction post.

Rita’s introduction post.

The Narrative Post:

The following week, students told a personal story about their topic.  For example, students writing about Japan told an interesting story about getting lost in Tokyo, and students writing about desserts told the story of eating the best dessert ever.  We focused on the characteristics of narrative writing such as plot, setting, characters, use of dialogue and of course, conflict and resolution. It was amazing to see how motivated they were to craft a tale that would hook their readers.

Selena's narrative post about learning to make pastries.

Selena’s narrative post about learning to make pastries.

The Opinion Post:

The final post was a persuasive essay. They presented an opinion about their topic and then – taking a page from a writing course by Professor Amy Gutmann at Princeton – they  summarized the opposite opinion before providing at least two counterpoints to tear it down.  Lastly, they supported their own opinion with at least two arguments.

Arial argues that between chocolate and cookies, chocolate is better.

Arial argues that between chocolate and cookies, chocolate is better.

Then, using Linda Yollis’s excellent student video below (also obtained at CUE), we discussed what makes a good comment before students left messages on their classmate’s blogs.

The last step was to include the Chinese language classes at the Menlo School in Northern California. Our students each created a 30 second “commercial” to introduce themselves and their topic and explain why the Menlo students should visit their blog.  They posted the videos to our Menlo/Tsai Hsing shared Edmodo page with a link to their blog.  The Menlo students watched the advertisements and chose which blogs to visit.  They commented on the blog and then posted an audio comment in Chinese to the Edmodo page. Extra care was taken on their comments because they knew we’d be listening.

This unit had everything. At its core, it was about creating a series of quality pieces in multiple styles about a single topic. The blog format expanded the audience but the collaboration with Menlo made that expansion personal. It was perhaps our most successful writing unit to date, and will surely be repeated next year.

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