“I hate the French….” exploded a former student. I was taken aback and speechless for a moment. I was working with a group of fifth graders on a current events project in one of my technology classes in an elementary school. I stopped, and told the student that while I did respect that this was his opinion, I was curious as to why he felt this way and would love to hear him expand his thoughts on the subject. I asked him to give me three reasons for his opinion. He could not. All he could say was that he hated them. He did not know why. Actually, he had never really given that aspect a thought. I sort of walked him through his statement in a way that respected his right to an opinion yet made him dig a little deeper into his own thinking. I wanted to validate this student and his opinions yet at the same time encourage dialogue about ‘critical thinking.’ I told him that having an opinion could be a good thing but if he wanted to convince others, he needed to base his opinions on facts. This led to a great classroom discussion and we ended up role playing various other opinions, followed by an examination of the basis for the opinion. I called this activity ‘Give Me Three’.

I thought I would try to list some of the “discussion/thinking type activities/techniques that could easily be adapted for short postings for blogs. These postings could foster further conversations in your classrooms through the commenting feature or further postings if students had some thoughts to add to the conversations. For now I am going to call these activities “Blog-its!” I may come up with a better name but they will be ideas that can be adapted to any curriculum you are studying.

I’m blogging these ideas for a couple of reasons. One is in anticipation of my blogging project next year. I also have lots of teachers ask me what I blog about with students and how does it work. Maybe this will provide some help in that area. Let me know.
I love using blogs to get students thinking about how and what they are learning. It really helps them understand what they are learning if they blog about it and share with others. Plus the absolute joy of getting a comment from someone outside our classroom really gets them into this type of blogging. I’m also hoping some of you will share some of your techniques and ideas back. So, here goes….

‘Smartening Up’
I make a conscious effort to not “dumb down the vocabulary I’m using when I teach. I purposefully use words that I’d like them to add to their vocabulary. I’ll check to see if they understand the word and encourage them to use the words back in our discussions. Now when they do it’s a big deal and I make it a celebration of our learning. I encourage the kids to blog about it. I blog about it. I also encourage them to add to the vocabulary. They do. We constantly use the thesaurus. (online and offline) I find that using it together helps clarify when a certain word fits with what they are talking about. Students need lots of practice with this. It’s standard procedure for them to jump up and get the thesaurus. Allowing time to practice this and discuss and use the new words is so important. They get to have fun with the vocabulary by making PowerPoint presentations where they use those call-outs and pictures of themselves using the words with each other. Then they can do quick blog posts using their new vocabulary. They use it, so they won’t lose it!

‘Idioms Are Fun’
Whenever possible idioms are used to describe the content you are learning or to emphasize a point or clarify a point. It’s OK for them to shout out “idiom” when they hear one and then we laugh and discuss the literal vs. figurative meaning. Idioms can be so much fun! I tell my students the sky’s the limit when they throw their hat in the ring and become better thinkers and writers! The fun really begins when they begin to make up their own idioms!

‘Read, Retell, Predict’
We’ll take a sentence or a paragraph dealing with what we are studying and in pairs or small groups the activity will be to read it, retell it and then make predictions on what you think will happen next. Blog about it and have your classmates respond on comments.

‘Summarize & Connect’
Review the day. What did we learn? How does that connect to something else we have learned? What does it mean? Is it relevant to something in our lives? What else do we want to know about as a result of what we learned?

‘Burning Questions’
Think about what you are learning. What ‘burning question’ comes to mind that you would like to have answered? After the student blogs this, others respond.

‘Category Quest’
I haven’t used this but have thought about it. I would like to elicit the students’ help in devising the categories for our blogs. This is another area that merits practice. It would help them organize and think about how we work with information. They could blog about categories and make suggestions. It also gives them the opportunity to let us know what categories they are interested in and think need to be included.
This is a start. I know many of you do these type of activities daily in your class. Start thinking of ones that would be ideas to help those who are a little hesitant to start blogging with students see how easy it can be.