Turning Independent Reading into Interactive Blogging

The following post is part of a collaborative effort with Erica Speaks (@TeachingSpeaks), and you can find her discussion of the benefits of this activity for student learning on her blog, Teaching Speaks Volumes.

As Will Richardson pointed out in the original edition of “Blogs, Wikis, and Podcasts“, student work benefits from the presence of a real audience.  Students are motivated to work harder and gain meaningful feedback from others when they publish their ideas and efforts in an online forum.

But, the technical barriers to setting up a blogging experience for students can be daunting.  Even educators with experience themselves blogging, or publishing other online work, may struggle to find an effective and streamlined way for students to put their writing on the web.  But, the advent of turnkey blogging platforms for education (like Edublogs) and simple tools for collecting student writing (like Google Forms) has made this task much simpler.  I present here a four-step method that any teacher can use to turn old-fashioned book reports into online book reviews that encourage authors to interact with their adolescent readers.


1. Create a blog: The video below illustrates the simplest method (in my opinion) using the free WordPress.com service.  Edublogs is a hosted version of WordPress that is specifically designed for classrooms, but you need their “Pro” level paid service to activate the “post by email” feature that makes this process much simpler.  So, I recommend going to WordPress.com as a free alternative.  After creating the blog, you can customize the site to include a school or district logo, or just tweak the colors to make it more appealing.  Note: Any blogging platform that supports the “post by email” feature will work for this purpose.


2. Create a form: The video below demonstrates how to use Google Docs to create a form that collects the information that you find important.  Keep in mind that some of the collected information will be used to generate the blog post, but other information (e.g., student identifying details) can be kept off the blog and only viewable by the teacher for the purposes of assessment.  Feel free to start with my template, but be sure to go to the File menu and Save a Copy before editing it.


3. Use a plugin to convert the submitted form into an email message: Here I explain how I used formMule to perform this function, including the important step of matching the format that WordPress.com accepts in their Post by Email feature.


4. Create a submission page on the blog: The final step is to embed the Google Form on a page of the WordPress.com site that is password protected so that only your students can submit blog entries.  You can moderate all entries so that no unauthorized submissions get published as blog posts.


Tips and Troubleshooting

  • If the blog posts are not showing up on your blog, start by checking that the form is saving information.  Do this by looking at your Responses spreadsheet in Google Docs.  If entries are found there that are not posted on the blog, move on to the next bullet.
  • Next, go to the Dashboard for your WordPress.com blog and go to the All Posts area.  Check to see if the posts are sitting in Draft form or otherwise waiting to be published.  You may need to tweak the language in the formMule template to get the blog posts to be published automatically.
  • Be aware that the author of the post will be you.  The blog post author’s name will match the name of the WordPress.com account that activated Post by Email.  You may want to adjust the official name on that account to look more like “Student Blogger” or something similar.

8 thoughts on “Turning Independent Reading into Interactive Blogging

  1. I’m really loving this idea, I can’t wait to see it in action at my school! I’m having trouble though with the genre and rating “labels” from the form. The email-to-blog template includes them just as in your video, but in the actual review post, they’re nowhere to be found. I’d really like them to show up and be linkable as well. Do you have any suggestions on what I could check?

    1. Ms. Conway,

      That is controlled by your theme. Some themes don’t display Categories (which is what the Rating and Genre are listed as). Try experimenting with themes and looking at their settings to see if Categories are displayed. When they are displayed, they are always links to the Genre or Rating.

  2. Hi Paul!
    I attended your session last week at NCTIES and am very excited to use this in my classroom! I followed everything the way you said to in the videos and it all seems to be working wonderfully except when I posted a test review the categories at the bottom came out looking like this on the post:

    [categoryMystery,****, I really liked it! Fantastic Book!]

    I had it entered in the formMule just as you had it typed in but when it transfers over to the blog it still has the brackets…is there a step that I might have missed?/

    Thanks so much for your help!
    Mary Kate

    1. Mary Kate,

      Thanks for the kind words and for commenting here. I think that the issue is a minor one: make sure that (in formMule) you put a space after [category, like this (without the quotes): “[category “. WordPress isn’t seeing the category “shortcode” because it doesn’t see that space between the word “category” and the name of the categories.

      Try it and let me know how it works.

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