I begin by having students make a list of 3 things/people/hobbies that interest them most. Then they take that list of three and select the one thing that they feel they can make a list of ten ideas, sentence starters, or topics.
I cut short the time on coming up with the list so that students only have a few ideas generated. We pause and talk about branding and how certain companies have a brand name that is associated with a particular product line such as soft drinks, shoes, or cars, while other companies have a brand based on a concept such as low prices or home delivery for a variety of products. We have a short discussion on how having a unifying theme for their blog and also for their website can help them develop a brand. Students can make the connection so that their blog can help them become known for the concerts they have attended or the fashion they are interested in, or the books they have read.
After the discussion on branding students complete their list and seem much more interested in generating that list around the theme of their choice. Students are given the choice of blogging privately so only other students can read it or blogging publicly so that anyone can read it. Last year only a few students chose to make their blogs public, but at the end of the semester several other students expressed that they wished they had made their blogs public.
As we blog I require that students read and comment on the blogs from other students in class as well as read and comment on blogs that are on a topic similar to theirs. We do this to help develop a sense of audience -- being an audience for others and creating an audience for our blogs.
With the statistics functions students see the number of views that their blog has received and where those viewers are located in the world, the operating system of the system their audience views from, and the browser that is used. However, very quickly students move from wanting views to wanting comments. This moves to a discussion on the idea that in order to have an audience we need to be an audience; and in order to have comments on our blog it is good if we comment on others' blogs.
On a practical front I show the students how to turn on moderated comments, meaning that they need to approve every comment that shows up for their blog. We discuss that yes there are people out there who may have positive comments for us that we want to display; others have negative comments that we want to display because they will help improve the blog; and others have negative and demeaning comments that we simply don't want to display. Moderating those comments shows us who our audience is, but also allows us to control what is displayed and helping us further develop our brand.
Finally, as we blog, I have students focus on developing their own voice. On a practical side I have students think if they want their blog to follow a pattern for each blog entry. From the ideas generated last year and this year common blog topics are reviews or opinions related to a common set of topics: music genres and groups/performers, basketball shoes I own or want; books I read or want to read; etc. For each of these I ask students to develop a pattern for each entry that might include basic information, a star rating of some sort, and then a written review. Or else see if they want their blog to follow various forms for each entry.
To further develop their voice I have students read their blogs aloud. Listening to a blog entry is very different from simply typing it up and proof reading it. Finally I have students work with a partner and before each entry is posted, they must have their partner proof read the entry as well as discuss it with their partner. This helps eliminate mechanical errors such as spelling, capitalization and punctuation as well as helping the student recognize if this blog entry "sounds" much different from other entries.
As I read through this blog entry I am again grateful for the Google session I attended last fall. This was one of several very valuable sessions that has had a long lasting impact on my teaching and my class. Not only that, I find it enjoyable to think about my classes and write about them!