Writing for an audience

How can blogging help pupils develop their writing? In this case study, Julia Skinner, school trustee and founder of the 100 Word Challenge, introduces an online writing project that is available to students under 16.

As both a teacher and a headteacher, I was aware that creative writing was still a challenge for many teachers to teach. When it comes to using your imagination, it can be very difficult to provide a structure other than a beginning, middle and end. Subjects like maths and science, for example have a formula that students can follow. But when it comes to writing creatively, many stop at the first hurdle of engaging with the title.

The approach

As a new blogger who was engaging with educators on social media, I realised that more schools were beginning to use technology for a range of classroom activities. Many were bulk buying mobile devices often with no plan of how to implement them.. Given the choice of an exercise book or a tablet/computer, students would likely choose the technology. But how could that ‘IT time’ become a meaningful part of the timetable? Could the prospect of using a tablet be used to motivate students to write creatively?

The other advantage of using online technology was that it extended the potential audience from the class teacher to the wider world. To be motivated to write, students needed to know that there was someone, somewhere who would read it.

Having taken part in a writing project for adults with a similar word count, my idea was to offer a writing challenge that could be done by any age group, at any level.

100 Word Challenge (100wc.net)

The 100 Word Challenge is a free, weekly writing challenge which is online & available to anyone with internet access. Each week, a prompt is set to provide a catalyst for writing. There are three types of prompts: picture prompts where the writer engages in what they see; word prompts where 5 different, seemingly unconnected words must be included; and finally, part of a sentence where the given prompt must be used as written.

The students engage with the prompt, writing around 100 words. This is not a strict word limit but just provides a digestible body of writing that can be used in a number of ways. Once written, the piece is posted onto a class blog and the link is pasted at 100wc.net.

The whole rationale of the project was to encourage as many students as possible to write freely and for their work to be shared. When the project first began, I visited every post & left a comment. As the numbers taking part grew, I realised that I would need help. Using my social media contacts, I reached out for people to help me comment. Team 100 was formed and consists of people from across the world, who each have 5 posts to comment on.

What’s involved

Firstly, create a simple blog. Many schools now have class blogs which share all manner of activities. Even nursery classes log their daily adventures.

Then, sign up for 100 Word Challenge at 100wc.net. Read the weekly newsletter containing the latest prompt, and share it with your class, discussing and sharing ideas that students may have. It is important to emphasise that there are no wrong answers. Whatever the writer sees/imagines from the prompt is correct.

Students then write their 100 words. This can be done on paper or via Word, then copied and pasted onto the blog. Once it has been moderated and you, the teacher, are happy with it, press publish The published post will have a URL which is the address at the top of the page. This is copied and pasted into the form on 100wc.net

Although it is not obligatory, it is very useful for classes to provide a staff member to join Team 100 and provide 5 comments each week!

Evaluation

Evaluating the impact of 100 Word Challenge is difficult as it is only one piece of writing that students do each week. How do you know that the improvement in writing has been because of 100WC? Many teachers have commented that the motivation that results from receiving a comment from an external audience is very powerful.

Teachers are using the challenge in a variety of ways. Some do it formally every week with the whole class writing at the same time. Some have set it for homework whilst others use it for intervention groups or for their ‘Computer Clubs’.

Of course, technology can fail. Thankfully these occasions have been few, and fixed in good time for posts to be published. Making sure you know all of the rudiments of blogging helps reduce any potential barriers.

If you choose to focus on this case study as part of this week’s learning, you can share any initial reflections and questions with the course community in the comments space below.

  • How might these approaches be applied in your own context to solve a challenge you’ve identified?

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Using Technology in Evidence-Based Teaching and Learning

Chartered College of Teaching

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