How to Use Blogs in Your ESL Class

For writing teachers, blogging is a great teaching tool. But since it’s a newer technology and not everyone is familiar with it, some teachers might avoid using blogs in their classrooms. If you’re one of those teachers, don’t worry. They’re easier to use than you might think, and they offer some advantages you can’t get from traditional writing exercises.

This post will show you the benefits of blogging for ESL students and get you started on incorporating it into your classroom.

Note: To incorporate blogging into your classes, you will need access to a computer lab for at least one day, or an in-class computer with internet access that all your students can see (with a monitor or projector). Your students will need access to computers connected to the internet outside of the classroom (either at home, at a library, at school, etc.). For very low-tech situations, using blogs might be very difficult.

Why Blogs?

Let’s talk about what the advantages of blogging before I show you how to do it in the classroom, just in case I need to convince you… or you need to convince your students.

The main advantage of blogs is their interactivity. Blogs are different from traditional writing assignments because anyone can see them once they’re published. Usually people can comment on them as well. On blogs, the conversation is much wider than just teacher to student.

The big difference between blogging and traditional writing assignments is the hardware: pencils and paper have been replaced by keyboards and screens. As your ESL students move on to writing in English for university assignments or job tasks, they are going to be typing on keyboards rather than writing by hand. Blogs are a good way to get them used to typing in English.

The final reason why blogs are cool is that they last forever (if you want them to). Students love seeing when they improve. If they find their old blog posts after a few months of solid improvement in their writing, they might be a bit embarrassed of their old stuff, but also very proud of how far they’ve come.

Convinced? Let’s see how we can do it in class.

Step 1: Set Up the Blogs

There are many blogging services out there, but I think WordPress is the best for ESL classes. It’s easy and quick to set up, and the themes always look good. If you’re not familiar with WordPress, sign up and try to make a blog yourself (it’s free).

Some other popular blogging platform options are Blogger and Tumblr. If you’re using an LMS like Moodle or Compass, there might be a blog feature within the system that you can utilize. This post will focus on WordPress, but almost all of the information is applicable to whatever platform you choose.

Once you choose your blogging platform and you get a little practice going through it, you will demonstrate how to set up a blog to your class. With WordPress, the process is very user-friendly and easy to follow, so even if your students don’t know much English, their tech-savvyness should help them along. But you’ll still want to be there to guide them along just in case.

With a computer lab

The best way to get students signed up for their blogs is by taking them to a computer lab where each student can use their own computer. If your school has one, try to reserve it for a day at the beginning of the semester. You might also be able to take your students to a library or a nearby university if you don’t have a computer lab on your school’s campus.

Have your students go to the WordPress website and go through the steps to get their own blogs set up. You can demonstrate each step of the process on your own computer and have your students follow you step-by-step. As you’re doing so, monitor their progress, help them when they have questions, and give mini-demonstrations on your own computer when necessary.

Without a computer lab

If computer labs are not a possibility at all, you’ll still be able to give a demonstration to your students with just one computer that everyone can see.

Show them the website, go through the different steps, and explain what they need to do. You should also have some sort of handout that explains the process in case they forget. Then their homework will be to go home, set up their blogs, and email you their blog’s URL.

Step 2: Give Prompts

If you’re in the computer lab and still have time left over after setting the blogs up, you can give your students a prompt to write their first blog post about. You can demonstrate how to start a new post and some of the different features for blog posts.

The prompts can be about anything. For the first prompt, I like to ask students something about themselves, especially if I don’t know them well yet. Some examples:

  • Why are you learning English?
  • What are your goals in life?
  • What are the most important things in your life?

After the first post, I often choose prompts that are related to the content that students are working on at the time. I use blogs in my writing classes, where I also teach the different kinds of essays: compare/contrast, cause/effect, argumentative, etc. So, to help students practice the language necessary for these types of essays, I give prompts like:

  • Should cellphones be banned in classrooms? (argumentative)
  • Choose one of your friends. How are you similar and/or different from him/her? (compare/contrast)
  • What are some effects of reading a lot? (cause/effect)

If you’re teaching a content-based class, prompts about the content your class is currently working on would give them extra practice.

Or, you could just tell your students to write about anything on their minds. Depending on your students, you might get some really interesting responses.

Step 3: Respond

It’s important that the students are able to see each others’ blogs. There are a few ways to do this, but I think the easiest way is as follows:

  1. Once the students set their blogs up, the teacher collects the names of all the student blogs and compiles them into a list (either a worksheet, website, or file).
  2. The teacher gives that list to the students.
  3. Students follow their classmates blogs.
  4. Students can then find their classmates blogs when they click the Manage button next to “Followed Sites”.

Once the students are all following one another (or are otherwise connected), then they should read their classmates’ posts. This is one of the biggest advantages of blogging: shareability. Students don’t need to bring a paper to class or email anything. Their posts can be found easily.

After reading a classmate’s post, students should write a comment. There are different things that you can ask your students to do in the comments section, but here are a few things you can require to get the best comments from students:

  • More than one sentence
  • More than just praising the post (not just “I like your post!”)
  • Make a personal connection (“I traveled to Paris too!”)
  • AND/OR ask a question (“Did you see the Eiffel Tower?”)

By commenting, students are engaging in a written conversation which is very different from the traditional formal essays that most writing classes focus on. But those types of conversations (comments and replies) are becoming very common and useful in the age of the internet. Your students should be given the chance to practice this skill.

Step 4: Assess (or don’t)

One of the main advantages of blogging for ESL students is that it is realistic, yet informal writing. Most writing classes focus on formal academic essays, which can be very useful for students who are entering college or English language high schools.

However, this type of writing can also be very restrictive. Students are often graded on how well they follow the structure and rules of the essay style they’re writing.

For blogs, don’t assess their structure. Just let your students express their ideas without worrying about thesis statements, transitions, and topic sentences. It’s a good chance to let the ideas flow and improve writing fluency. They might get messy, but the goal isn’t to write the perfect essay anyway.

So what do you assess? Here are some ideas:

  • Answering the prompt correctly.
  • Word count (“At least 150 words”)
  • Including links (“Include at least one link to a blog or article that you’re responding to, or that supports your idea.”)
  • Writing comments on other students blogs (“Write your own blog post and then write two insightful comments on other classmates’ blogs”)

Or you could just not assess the blogs at all. Give students credit if they wrote something (anything!) and responded to other blogs, but otherwise just let the blog be their writing space. In general, blogs should be more formative than summative.

Have your students write one blog post and two comments per week as homework in addition to the other writing assignments they’re doing in class. At the end of the semester, they will have written much more English and you will have read a lot of interesting ideas that you never knew your students had.

Get Blogging

I tried blogging for the first time last semester. I was worried. Even though I like to think of myself as innovative, I’m also wary of using technology in the classroom that could potentially give me headaches.

But getting my class to blog was so worth it. I read funny anecdotes, brilliant ideas, and touching stories that my students would have never written if we had only stuck to the traditional writing assignments.

It’s not that hard. Play around on WordPress and get used to it. Find out a way that you can make it work in your class. It will be worth it.

Thanks for reading.

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Featured Image Credit: Joseph McKinley

4 thoughts on “How to Use Blogs in Your ESL Class

  1. Thanks for this useful resource! I particularly liked your point about shareability. Blogging certainly has this advantage over flat literacy writing assignments.

    One impediment to using your method of collecting, listing, and inviting students to subscribe to peers’ blogs in my experience has been a resistance to getting too many emails. Students these days suffer from information overload and look for ways to reduce the flood of incoming messages on all of the various platforms they are active on. Asking students to subscribe, in my case, to Moodle notifications and blogs by 36 other classmates is asking a lot. With larger classes like mine, I find that it is enough to ask students to follow two or three classmates. I give students a point if they have successfully received a comment from other people. It pushes them to assert their need for feedback to peers–a useful exercise in an education system that largely individualizes them through grade competition and de-emphasizes co-operation (called cheating in some contexts).

    I will certainly subscrbe and hope to read more on your adventures in blogging with students.

    1. Great point about the information overload. I gave this a test run last semester, when I only had five students in my class! So some modifications are definitely needed when I try it with more students. I’ll make sure to post about what tweaks I decide on.
      And I completely agree with your point about feedback to peers and collaboration. The individualized education model just doesn’t match today’s reality, where people can get so much help and information instantly.
      Thanks for your comment and kind words!

  2. Hey Kris!
    Do you have any favorite blog systems to use? I’ve used blogspot in the past for my teaching, but not for a writing blog.

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