How to Design a Blog Writing Assignment in 3 Easy Steps

How to Design a Blog Writing Assignment in 3 Easy Steps

By: Yana Weinstein and Jennifer McCabe

A few months into our blog, we received an e-mail from Dr. Jennifer McCabe at Goucher College telling us about an assignment she had implemented for her upper-level seminar on the topic of "Cognition, Teaching, and Learning." We were very flattered to learn that Dr. McCabe was using our blog as the basis of the assignment! Since then, I (Yana) adapted that assignment and also gave it to students in my Advanced Seminar in Cognitive Psychology class.

This got us thinking that the assignments we created might actually be a useful template for any teacher or professor who wants to incorporate a blog-writing assignment for their students. This assignment could be set in a psychology or education class (lower or upper level), a more general writing class, or a class on virtually any topic. The instructions below describe how we created a blog-writing assignment around “The Learning Scientists” blog.  Feel free to use them if this blog is relevant to your class, or simply adapt the guidelines to fit a different blog!

All you need before you can get started on creating the assignment is a relevant, high-quality blog. Optional bonus: if this is a blog you run, you could offer publication of the best pieces to your students. If not, you could write to the blog owner and ask them if they might consider guest post submissions. In our case, we welcome submissions for guest posts from exceptional student writers. In fact, two of Dr. McCabe’s students’ final blog projects are in the process of being edited for publication in the blog – look out for them over the next couple of weeks!

Step 1: Students Read Blog Posts

First, students should familiarize themselves with your chosen blog. This phase should take about an hour.

To make sure students are engaging thoughtfully with the content, we ask them a series of questions. These can be programmed into an online survey website (e.g., Google Forms) or using a built-in module in a content management system (e.g., BlackBoard, Moodle). Below are the instructions and prompts we used:

There's a new website called "The Learning Scientists." It was started by some of the leading researchers in this area, and they want to share information from learning science in an accessible way for students, teachers, and parents - through blog posts and other web-based resources.

Q1. What do you think might be the strengths and weaknesses of this blog?

Q2. Please take a look at Can you suggest 3 improvements to the website, to make it more helpful to students?

Q3. Please take a look at the blog archive here: Which blog titles or topics are the most appealing to you, and why?

Q4. Please find and read at least two blog posts. Which blog posts did you read, and what did you think about them?

Q5. If you were invited to write a blog post for this website, what would you write about and why?

Step 2: Students Write Blog Posts!

Having answered the questions above, students are now ready to proceed to the next step: actually drafting a post for the blog! This phase could take 1-2+ hours, depending on students’ speed with idea development and writing/editing.

You can download the assignment guidelines below (they are a little too long to reproduce in this post), but here’s an outline of what’s covered in the guidelines:

  • Content – focusing on breadth or depth
  • Originality – going beyond the assigned readings
  • Empirical evidence – relating all claims to evidence (because this is for a scientific class!)
  • Pictures – blog posts should include original images
  • Additional details about the title, format, length, and audience are also included.

Step 3: You Grade Blogs Posts

I (Yana) used a rubric that scored students’ blog posts on each of the criteria described in the assignment guidelines. You can download the rubric here. I know a lot of people dislike grading, but grading these was painless and easy using the rubric – and the blog posts were all very interesting!

In addition, I also ran a fun competition on the last day of class. In a computer lab, I got each student to pull up their completed blog posts on one computer, and then ran a speed-dating-style event where each student got 3 minutes to read each classmate’s post. Then, students voted on their favorite post(s) in terms of (a) usefulness, (b) readability, and (c) visual appeal. This did not go towards grades, but the winner of each category received a certificate of achievement, and they all thought it was immensely fun!

The Big Picture: Translational, Authentic Learning Projects

I (Jennifer) was motivated to create this assignment for my seminar because a major learning outcome was for students to experience and understand the importance of translational work that takes the complex jargon of scientific reports and repackages them to reach a popular audience. Applied memory research is an excellent topic for this goal, as researchers’ discoveries have significant implications for students, teachers, and parents who are invested in education; at the same time, this work is not always communicated in a way that resonates with non-expert audiences. Thus, there is a need for resources and outlets to translate this work using everyday language and examples.

My students reported that reading and evaluating various sources of translational work (including the “Learning Scientists” blog), and subsequently engaging in their own translational projects (such as writing their own blog posts) were meaningful, authentic learning experiences – those they will remember long beyond the end of the semester. Yana and I agree that these are enjoyable projects to mentor; and like our students, we feel engaged in the process (even the feedback and grading!) because the nature of the assignment is so interesting, relevant, and authentic.