Lessons

Improving Students’ Blogging Skills

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Shea seed. Image by Amy Maxmen. Mali, 2013.

picture_by_tan_siok_siok_-_with_miner_he_quangui_and_his_wife_mi_shixiu.jpg

I hadn't prepared an obituary picture of Mr He, but I think he'd like to be remembered this way, being happy. He cherished every visit I made, writing about each time in his journal. Image by Tan Siok Siok. China.

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Shea seeds roasting. Image by Amy Maxmen. Mali, 2013.

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Shea oil. Image by Amy Maxmen. Mali, 2013.

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Shea butter. Image by Amy Maxmen. Mali, 2013.

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Noodles with fish. Image by Amy Maxmen. Mali, 2013.

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A village chief in Koutiala, Mali. Image by Amy Maxmen. Mali, 2013.

Step 1: Warm-up

Do you read a blog? What is it about? Sports? Fashion? Food? News? College? 

Today we are all going to become blog writers!

Step 2:

Read the following article: The 12 Dos and Don’ts of Writing a Blog by Brian Klems 

When Writing a Blog, Do...

Find your focus.

To do this, you must first ask yourself this question: Who are your target readers? Once that’s settled, you can hone in on a niche category (like this one focuses on writing) and be the expert on it.

Be relatable, be yourself.

What sets bloggers apart from newspaper article feeds is voice. Your content is what draws them in while your personality, or your voice in writing, is what will keep them there. Let your readers get to know you. Use links within your posts. Whether you are linking to other blogs or websites that contain great information or linking to past posts on your own site, do it whenever you can. This will help not only increase your clicks but also help with your blog’s search engine rankings.Include images. While readers come to your blog for information and personality, they also need to be stimulated visually. Not all posts will lend themselves to an image, but when they do, take advantage of it. 

Responding to Blog Comments:

This is an opportunity to connect directly with the people who are reading your work. Not all comments need a response, but be sure to respond to ones that do. And sometimes it’s worth just popping on and posting “Thanks for reading my blog.” Post to Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Anywhere Else You Can. Don’t be afraid to use social media to tout your posts. Anything that makes it easier for potential readers to find your blog is a must (and friends and family definitely qualify as potential readers).

When Writing a Blog Don’t...

Set Unrealistic Goals. You know your schedule and abilities better than anyone else, so don’t attempt to post every day if you can’t. Start out by posting weekly and get in a groove. As you streamline your process, increase your posting if you can.

Limit your word count. If you have something to say, say it. Readers (and search engines) prefer to get meatier pieces (500 words or more) to make clicking through worth their time. This doesn’t mean you can’t feature shorter pieces or that you should ramble on just to meet a word count, but don’t be afraid to break down antiquated perceptions that blogs need to be short. When the time is right, go long.

Make grammar mistakes. And, if you do, correct them immediately. Folks on the Web tend to be more lenient about typos, so don’t stress about it if you do make a mistake. But correct it as soon as you can. Remember, if you ever want readers to take you seriously, you have to take yourself (and your blog) seriously. Give it the professional quality it deserves.

Be negative. It’s generally unwise to air personal grievances publicly (unless, of course, that’s the theme of your blog). You’ll go a lot further by being positive, inspirational and supportive to the community that you’re writing to.

Write long paragraphs. Long blocks of text are hard for readers to digest, especially when reading on computers and tablets. Break up your content into shorter paragraphs, bullet points and lists whenever possible. Also, if you can, work in some subheads.

Avoid trying new things. It’s important to let your blog evolve over time, and the only way this can happen is if you take risks every once in awhile. Whether it’s adding infographs or personal stories or guest bloggers, never be afraid to try something new. If you feel it can add something special to your blog, try it.

Step 3:

Read the Code of Blogging Ethics:

1. Promote Interactivity

  • Post to your blog on a regular basis
  • Visit and post on other blogs
  • Respect blog etiquette
  • Attempt to be entertaining, interesting, and/or relevant

2. Promote Free Expression

  • Do not restrict access to your blog by specific individuals or groups
  • Do not self censor by removing posts or comments once they are published
  • Allow and encourage comments on your blog

3. Strive for Factual Truth

  • Never intentionally deceive others
  • Be accountable for what you post

4. Be as Transparent as Possible

  • Reveal your identity as much as possible (name, photo, background info, etc.)
  • Reveal your personal affiliations and conflicts of interest
  • Cite and link to all sources referenced in each post

5. Promote the Human Element in Blogging

  • Minimize harm to others when posting information
  • Promote community by linking to other blogs and keeping a blogroll
  • Build relationships by responding to e­mails and comments regularly

​Step 4:

Not only do Pulitzer Center grantee journalists publish their work on major media outlets like the PBS Newshour, Al Jazeera, the New York Times, and more, they also take time to write on a more personal level. Let’s check out some of their blog posts found on the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting website:

Postcards from Mali

Mexico: Not Every Day is a Good Day

Bon Voyage Brother He

Discuss:

  1. ­How do these posts reflect elements of good blog writing?
  2. How are they similar? How are they different? 
  3. ­Why might these journalists take the time to write blogs on top of all of their other reporting and writing?

Step 5:

Write a blog post about your experiences chatting with the Pulitzer Center journalists. You can focus on one journalist or the experience in its entirety. Use the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting website to review the journalists’ work as needed.

Recommended word count: 300­-500

Optional requirements: links and images

Possible angles for blog posts:

After chatting with these journalists, would you would consider a job in journalism? Do you feel inspired by the work that these journalists are doing? Did you learn about something happening in the world?  What makes high quality journalism? What characteristics do good journalists possess? Something else?

Educator Notes: 

CCSS.ELA­Literacy.W.9­10.4

Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. 

Objective:

After a series of chats with Pulitzer Center journalists, students reflect on the experience in a creative yet relevant form of writing by producing a blog post. This lesson can be adapted for classes that only have one chat with a journalist.

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