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How to craft writing skills through topics and media students love

Develop writing skills by focusing on topics students are passionate about and through media that excite them!
Bryan Carvalho
February 27, 2020

Teaching students to write critically about texts can be extraordinarily difficult when the students themselves are not connecting with the content.

Having students create content about topics they love, however, can give them experience researching topics, outlining a structure, finding and citing sources, and giving and accepting feedback.

We’ll explore how students can practice and build their writing skills by focusing on topics of interest and passion and through media that excite them (journals, videos, and podcasts).

Blogging about passions & interests

As Allison Berryhill notes in Edutopia, finding a balance between prompt-generated blogs and entirely student-led blogs can lead to the most relevant and effective blogging for learning.

Passion blogging, as articulated by high school teachers and authors Allison Marchetti and Rebekah O’Dell, encourages students to take the passions they already have and find new and creative ways to explore and analyze them.

Marchetti and O’Dell suggest two approaches to integrate passion blogging into your classroom: Create a standalone writing study over a period of weeks or integrate it as a regular classroom routine throughout the term or school year.

For a great framework, we recommend turning to Berryhill’s Edutopia piece “Tapping Students’ Interests to Develop Literary Analysis Skills.” There, Berryhill explains how she structured passion blogging in her class and was able to bring in research and media literacy, finding and attributing source, and peer feedback.

However you integrate passion blogging, you may want to create specific reflection questions to ensure students are able to demonstrate the desired learning outcomes or core standards required for your class or grade level.

How-to in SpacesEDU

In web or mobile versions of SpacesEDU, creating a blog is simple.

  1. To facilitate peer feedback among your students, create a Group Space and assign students to small groups.
  2. Apply your favorite independent brainstorming methodology (like mind-mapping, cluster-diagramming, or brainwriting) to have students come up with 10-15 different blog topics to research and write around a topic they are passionate about. (You can see mine for “coffee” below.)

Coffee Mind Map

  1. Ask students to outline their blog idea, and check-in with a teacher or peer if they have questions. (The outline could be an informal discussion, or a formal written outline in a Google Document, up to you!)
  2. Once they’re ready, they can create a 'text' post and/or include any multimedia attachments to their heart's content.
  3. Once students are happy with their post, review the content and instruct them to provide feedback to their peers in the Comments section of each other's posts. Engage the students in their favorite topic with some reflection prompts or follow-up questions on areas they could articulate better.
  4. Continue this process for the duration of the passion blogging and build in evaluation and grading as you see fit.

Resources

Scriptwriting for vlogs and podcasts

Another great way to get students to love writing, and maybe not even realize it, is having them practice their writing and translate it into formats they love: audio and video.

In podcasts and vlogs, writing is critical. The best podcasts and YouTube or TikTok videos do not sound scripted at all, but they are rarely done entirely off the cuff.

Understanding the role of writing a strong opener and conclusion, having good discussion points, and generally having their story structured in advance are valuable writing lessons for content creators in any format.

Need some inspiration? NPR’s Student Podcast Contest had nearly 6,000 entries, you can hear the winners and honorable mentions here.

How-to in SpacesEDU

  1. Kick off a discussion with students in the Class Space by asking them to share their favorite podcasts or vlogs in the Comments section. Prompt reflection by asking them why the content is compelling or what they’d do differently as a host.
  2. Create an Activity for this scriptwriting exercise in the Class Space.
  3. Ask students to submit their script as assigned.
  4. Encourage students to ask you any questions about areas they’re unsure about before recording their first draft
  5. Before recording their first draft, encourage students to ask you any questions in the 'Reflect...' section below the Activity instructions.
  6. After approving their script, change the status of their submission to 'Request Resubmission' and in the 'Feedback' field, instruct students to include an audio or video to their resubmission based on their script. Students must also reflect on how their script helped or hindered their recording by answering the questions below:
    1. Where did the recording feel too scripted?
    2. Where could it have been more scripted?
    3. Where did the story fall flat?
  7. Review the written materials alongside the audio or video files in order to give them constructive feedback on how they can improve their scripting to create a higher quality vlog or podcast. Optional: Have students swap with a partner for peer feedback.
  8. Have students re-record and resubmit their vlog or podcast episode after integrating your and/or peer feedback.
  9. Continue this process for further recordings as needed, and build in evaluation and grading as you see fit.
  10. Publish the final product to the Class Space to share with the class and encourage additional peer feedback.

Resources

Bryan Carvalho

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