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!
Molly McCracken
February 27, 2020

Female Student Vlogging about make up

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 Spaces

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

  1. 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 or attach a Google document to begin writing to their heart’s content.
  3. Assign students into small groups to provide peer feedback.
  4. Once students are happy with their post, review the content and peer feedback. Engage the students in their favorite topic with some reflection prompts or follow-up questions on areas they could articulate better.
  5. 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 Spaces

  1. Kick off a discussion with students by asking them to share their favorite podcasts or vlogs. Prompt reflection by asking them why the content is compelling or what they’d do differently as a host.
  2. Ask students to create scripts for their vlog or podcast and create a “text” post or attach a Google Document.
  3. Encourage students to ask you any questions about areas they’re unsure about before recording their first draft
  4. Next have students create audio or video posts based on their script
  5. Ask students to reflect on how their script helped or hindered their recording.
    1. Where did the recording feel too scripted?
    2. Where could it have been more scripted?
    3. Where did the story fall flat?
  6. 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.
  7. Have students re-record their vlog or podcast episode after integrating your and/or peer feedback.
  8. Continue this process for further recordings as needed, and build in evaluation and grading as you see fit.

Resources

Molly McCracken

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