Students are at all different levels of their computer skills when they enter your classroom. Some have begun to learn to code in elementary school; some have not. They also have very diversified writing skill levels.
And here you are, wondering how you can best utilize the tools you have to motivate them and to find writing an enjoyable activity. Obviously, keyboarding skills will ease the “pain” of writing for them (who wants to put pen to paper anymore? Certainly, not this generation of texters). But what can you do to make them want to write more than texts to their friends?
Here is where WordPress can come in. You can use it as a great classroom tool in a couple of ways.
Start with Your Own Website
Begin by learning WordPress yourself. The best way, of course, is to dig right in and create your own classroom website. With WordPress, this is an easy task. If you have never experienced WordPress before, do not fear. WordPress offers some great beginner tutorials for newbies, and anyone can set up a website quite quickly.
Once you have a classroom website established, play around with it a bit. There are many additional elements and functions that you can install, and lots of free plugins that will let you do much more with it. There are tutorials for almost everything you may want to do:
- Create separate pages
- Create a blog and post it
- Add images
- Customize the site’s navigation
- Create and customize a sidebar
- Create a homepage
- Add widgets and plugins
WordPress has a full array of tutorials, and it will be important for you to learn as much as possible before you introduce your students to website development and to blog writing.
Crafting the Right Assignments
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Before creating any assignments for your students, you will need to add them to the website you have designed. Once they have access, they will need to learn how to write a blog post on the site and perhaps add images and even videos, as well as how to comment on other posts. This can be highly motivating, especially if you do it as a small group project at first. Setting it up this way leaves no student “out there” worried about his/her individual skills.
Decide on topics in advance: This is the time when you want to give students some space for topic selection. Of course, you want the topics to relate to their coursework, but providing plenty of options will allow each small group some independence. They can determine their own and then get approval from you.
Set the Guidelines for a Good Blog Post: One of the things that students tend to really like about blog posts is that the language can be casual rather than formal, such as that of typical academic assignments. Still, there must be some “rules.” Most teachers find that these are enough:
- Blog posts do need to present factual information, no matter what the topic. So, research will be required for the topics they choose.
- Students should do their research on the web. The reason for this is that they will need to link to the resources that they have used – another tech skill they will master the assignment!
- Blog posts have one of three purposes – to educate, to entertain, and/or to inspire. Students should choose one of these three purposes for their topics.
- Blog posts need to have certain elements.
- A great, catchy headline. This is where creativity comes in. Students can also learn how to use headline generator tools.
- A killer opening. The first sentence or two much grab the reader’s attention. This should not be new to most students. Even if they have used a writing service like rewarded essays for help with writing assignments, they will have learned that a strong opening is critical.
- Power Words: These are words that are persuasive and keep a reader motivated to continue reading. Usually, these are words that appeal to emotions. Again, they can locate lists of power words by using online tools for that purpose.
- Short sentences and easy Vocabulary: Unlike typical academic writing, writers of blog posts do best when they write as they speak. Students should write their posts as if they were talking to their friends (minus any inappropriate language, of course). The best posts usually have a vocabulary that ranges from the 7th-grade reading level. There are free tools that will evaluate the reading level of an article – they should use one of them.
- Using lists is always good – especially bulleted points that follow subheadings
- Posts should have at least one compelling image. Again, students will learn how to find free images online and to also provide source information when necessary.
Once you have set these rules, you will have your rubric for evaluating the blog posts that your students create and publish on the class website.
One additional assignment will be to comment on the articles that have been written by other students. These are not to be evaluative comments, but, rather, questions or comments that lead to discussion. All students should participate in a discussion on their fellow students’ articles as a required part of any blog post assignment.
Providing Lots of Examples
Educators know that there are key elements to teaching anything to students. They must be given the information; then they must be provided models of the products they are supposed to produce, whether that is a math problem, grammar elements, etc.
Using the “rules” you have established, students now have the information they need. Now for the models. Pull a number of blog posts off of popular blogs, even those written by students their own ages. Have students evaluate those posts against the “rules” you have taught. By reading and evaluating a number of other posts, they will see how good ones are constructed.
Guided practice is the next part of the lesson. Students can write blog posts of their own with your help and feedback. Or the class as a whole can participate in crafting one, with you acting as a coach. After that comes the independent practice, or writing one from scratch for publication.
Why This is Motivational
Your class website is out there on the web. It is a published site. When students can write articles, including their own names as the authors, there is a sense of pride an accomplishment. They actually have something that is a published part of a website, not just posts, tweets, and snapchats on social media.
Extending the Learning – Website Creation
Once students have mastered blog post writing, the next step will be for them to create their own WordPress website. Again, this may also be a group project, so that no individual student is feeling stressed. This is a complex project and will take a good amount of time.
While the setting up of a basic WordPress site is an easy task, there are many additional caveats that will require some more learning. Just as you learned how to add all of those additional elements, so too will they. From choosing a theme to colors, mages, fonts, pages, navigation, etc., each lesson will have to be carefully planned and executed. But investing the time in preparing these units and lessons will mean mastery for your students and will also give you the material you need for future classes. While WordPress interfaces may change, the basics will remain the same, and you will have a great overall unit for many semesters to come.
When the Glitches Come
Fortunately, there is a huge support system for WordPress, thanks to its open-source platform. Not only you, but your students can learn how to find the support and help they need online.
Teachers Helping Teachers
One of the best resources for teachers who want to learn WordPress and how best to teach its use to students is an entire site on WordPress for teachers. Here you will find instructional resources, a discussion forum, and links to additional resources, from general to very advanced. So, depending on how far you want to go with your students, you can learn what you need to first.
Whether you are an elementary or middle school teacher, you will find that, with careful and complete planning, you can create an amazing unit on WordPress – one that will serve you and your students well for the long haul. And the best part is that this is fully student-centered instruction in which they are completely involved through all steps in their learning.