Blogging is the New Persuasive Essay

| July 5, 2012 | 20 Comments
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By Shelley Wright

As an English teacher, I’ve had numerous conversations with college professors who lament the writing skills of their first year students. But not all writing. Most students are capable of solid expository writing. It’s their skill with persuasive writing that’s the problem. Specifically, they’re weak at writing a thesis statement that can be argued.

I spend three years teaching my high school students how to write a persuasive essay. For many students, it takes that long. (And I’m lucky to have them that long in my school.)

Part of the problem is that our current school systems — and not just in Canada — aren’t great at producing independent thinkers. Without this ability, it’s hard to create a great thesis statement, anticipate the arguments against it, and then compose your own argument in light of what you understand about the pros and cons of an issue.

I love writing essays. There’s something satisfying about rendering the chaos of thoughts into an elegant form. But I love blogging more. It feels like playing.

 

So for three years, I write for them, and with them. We talk about opening paragraphs, and they learn how to write them with their thesis statement either as the first or last sentence. (The latter requires more skill.) They learn to use transition words, embed quotations to support their argument, consider the advantages of active vs. passive voice, vary their sentences, and many other skills, all in the hope of creating a strong argument.

The truth is lately I’ve come to question the point of much of this. Does the average person, once they leave school, spend a lot of time composing academic essays? Is this the best way for our students to show their learning?  In some places, the academic 5 paragraph essay is hailed as the Holy Grail of non-fiction writing achievement. Yet even if a student can become a great persuasive essay writer, they’re still only semi-literate, at least according to the definition of 21st Century Literacies.

A DIFFERENT BEAST

While traditional essay writing may not help alleviate this situation, I think blogging can. Here’s the problem; Blogging is an entirely different beast. And one of the things I’ve learned about my students is that they don’t necessarily transfer a skill they’ve learned in one area to another without difficulty, or even prompting.

For one, the paragraphing is different. The large, solid paragraphs of prose that can be found in a typical persuasive essay, can feel arduous and cumbersome to all but the most determined reader.

Instead, blog paragraphs tend to be shorter. It allows the piece to feel fluid and speeds up the rate at which your reader reads (often through the glare of a computer monitor or on a phone or tablet screen). And while the effective blogger still uses transition words, as many aren’t necessary to provide the piece with a feeling of fluidity and coherence.

Sometimes a paragraph is one simple sentence, used for emphasis.

Another thing is the thesis statement. Its placement, in a blog, is up for grabs. Did you catch where mine is? Actually, I haven’t written it yet. Huh?!

Blogging also requires a different voice. The way I blog isn’t quite how I talk, but it’s nowhere close to how I write a formal essay. Furthermore, the voice used in blogging needs to be rich, sharp and distinct, to gain an audience. And while some may argue that academic writing could stand to have a bit more color and flair, I’m not sure that’s currently the accepted norm (although I wish it was).

In a formal essay, I would never use a sentence fragment. Ever. In a blog, it provides emphasis. Nor would I use slang in an essay.  But here? Yep. In one of my posts, I double-dog dared my readers.  Could you imagine double-dog daring anyone in an academic essay? If you try it, let me know the result.

Another thing that changes is providing your reader with evidence to support your points. In teaching the typical formal essay, I show my students how to quote directly, indirectly, and using individual words. Blogs still use direct quotes, but an indirect quote can be as simple as a vague mention and a link.

MY THESIS STATEMENT

I think blogging is the new persuasive essay – my thesis, finally.

Truth is, I love writing essays. There’s something satisfying about rendering the chaos of thoughts into an elegant form. But I love blogging more. It feels like playing.

I also find it more useful. While our students will need to know how to write essays to get through university, many won’t use it after that, unless they remain in academia. I think writing and persuasive thinking skills are important. However, I question the current products we require of students as proof of their learning. Most of the essays written by our students likely end up in the garbage or the computer trash can. And most are for an audience of one.

Blogging has the potential to reach and influence many. Furthermore, it has greater potential for being a life-long skill. And isn’t that our goal in education? People from all walks and professions blog for the purpose of teaching, creating, and informing. A number of my recent Masters courses didn’t require papers; instead, they required blogging. Why?

Because blogging is the new persuasive essay.

If we’re trying to prepare our students to think critically and argue well, they need to be able to blog. It allows for interaction. It allows for ideas to be tested. And the best posts anywhere in cyberspace tend to have a point that can be argued.

I think blogging across the curriculum, not just in Language Arts, allows for both formative and summative assessment. Blogs allow us to see the progression in the development of both thinking and writing. It may actually take more talent and skill to create an interesting persuasive post (or series of posts) on the French Revolution than a traditional essay.

BLOGGING AS A SKILL

Students definitely need to understand how and why the mechanics (and style) of blogging are different.

The solution? Blogging needs to start earlier, much earlier. I read recently of a kindergarten teacher who blogs with her students. Great idea. There’s a teacher in my division who does amazing things with her grade one class.

I’m not proposing that you need to do things radically different. Teach whatever you teach for Language Arts, or other subjects, but include a blog component. So if you’re teaching sentence structure, teach your students to create complete sentences while blogging. Blogs, like traditional writing, need great structure. If you’re focusing on capitalization or punctuation, transfer this skill to blog writing as well.

If you’re teaching paragraph structure, teach students the paragraph structure required for traditional essays and that for blogs. They’re different. Explain why. It’s likely they won’t be good at it at first. But there is merit to the quote, “Anything worth doing, is worth doing badly.”

A middle years teacher at my school used to stress out when we talked about student writing. She wanted to know if she was teaching them enough. My reply: “All  I need them to do is write solid paragraphs. If they can do that, I can teach them all kinds of things.” Really, everything I teach is either an addition to, or a subtraction from, a solid paragraph. My work builds on her work. I don’t need her to teach what I teach.  That’s my job.  But without her previous work, mine becomes much more difficult.

The same is true with blogging. Starting from scratch with blogging in grade 10 isn’t impossible. But we could do so much more if they already had the basics. In order to write well, you need to write a lot.

If you don’t currently teach your students to blog, please start. Our students need you to. And if you already teach your students to blog, keep it up. Because blogging is an important 21st century skill. It’s the new persuasive essay.

Shelley Wright is a teacher/education blogger living in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan in Canada. She teaches high school English, science and technology. Her passion in education is social justice, global education and helping her students make the world a better place. She blogs at Wright’s Room. Follow her on Twitter at @wrightsroom.

This post originally appeared on Voices from the Learning Revolution.

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  • Gary

    Excellent post. Blogging (words, images, videos, links) should be recognised as an art form in its own right, and potentially a huge career & business asset. Self-publishing has amazing practical, spiritual and psychological benefits in enabling young and old alike to find their personal and public ‘voice’, Everyone becomes a good writer through writing regularly, and young people need valid personal reasons, aside from school demands, to organise their thoughts into frequent coherent writing that has a sense of audience (or even a private diary-like blog). 

  • Pontifikate

    Even if someone doesn’t write essays (or blogs) after school, knowing all the elements of goos persuasive writing will help evaluate writing, op-eds and editorials, elsewhere. I taught English for years and trying to help young writers is labor-intensive and time consuming.  Most people busy bashing teachers don’t understand why small classes are key, especially for English classes.

  • http://twitter.com/RyanScottJCM Ryan Scott

    Blogging is an art form.  One thing that should be stressed to kids growing up now is how to realize these forms of expression.  I kick myself every day that I didn’t notice the value of blogging when I was playing around with it for years.  My life would be much different today if I recognized the need to stop playing and start planning.

    • Trinity Victoria

      Thanks for your post which is truly informative for us and we will surely keep visiting this website. We are also in same industry and welcome you to visit our website

  • http://www.mindfulstew.wordpress.com/ Paul Barnwell

    Great post, Shelley.  My own essay and persuasive writing has been rejuvenated with my own blog Mindful Stew–my challenge is now bringing the form back into the classroom for the students.  As a high school English teacher, we are driven by Literary Analysis for our high-stakes exam, which basically translates into a typical 5-paragraph essay.  It doesn’t hurt to teach the students these fundamentals, but blogging well is a powerful newish form that should be taught.  Thanks for inspiring me to adjust my curriculum.

  • Lorih63

    Absolutely dead on! Anything that gets our children writing and forming thoughts is good.

  • Natalie Walker

    An interesting and timely article.

    Once upon a time, students studied and were taught to compose two types of essays, the formal, academic essay, and the familiar essay. Familiar essays read much like blogs. They are informal, use relaxed language, (though not slang), and allow the writer to use a much more intimate voice. Learning to write a familiar essay was considered every bit as important as learning to write an academic paper.

    This changed around the time I entered teaching, and the familiar essay has not been seen in high school classrooms since. It’s a great loss. 

    Blogs are really familiar essays revived and updated. Students should be taught how to read them critically, and the skills needed to write them well.  

  • Sharanda Payseur

    Until last year, I would have disagreed with you.  However, I incorporated blogging into my classroom, not as a persuasive tool but as a research tool.  I loved it.  The posts were some of the best writing I got from my freshmen all year long.  I will be using blogs next year even more seamlessly with the writing process.  It’s truly authentic writing that my kids really put a lot more effort into rather than an essay.  My students mostly enjoyed reading and commenting on each other’s work.  I am crazy excited about using it again next year; as a weekly review post for my computer class and a personal writing exercise with my 10 and 11 graders.

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    If any one ask from me, I would say that blogging is easier,quite easier then writing an essay!

  • Tammy Gillmore

    Love this!  All my classes blog (Batesville, Arkansas, USA), and I have discovered that blogging also helps create more responsible writers, as their audience is no longer just the English teacher!

    If interested, I would love to collaborate.  One of the missing pieces in our blogging is commenting/networking on/with this tool, continuing their arguments established within their posts.

    Here’s a link to last year’s classes:  https://eng11cafe.wikispaces.com/English+11+Blogs.  This fall I will teach grades 11 and 12.

    Thanks for the post!

  • Tammy Gillmore

    Love this!  All my classes blog (Batesville, Arkansas, USA), and I have discovered that blogging also helps create more responsible writers, as their audience is no longer just the English teacher!

    If interested, I would love to collaborate.  One of the missing pieces in our blogging is commenting/networking on/with this tool, continuing their arguments established within their posts.

    Here’s a link to last year’s classes:  https://eng11cafe.wikispaces.com/English+11+Blogs.  This fall I will teach grades 11 and 12.

    Thanks for the post!

  • David kulligan

    Agreed, i think blogging and reporting are quite similar for me, i was blogger once when i was young, now i`m entertainment news reporter at http://www.carbonated.tv/entertainment and using my writing skills to endure my career which i gain that from my blogging era.

  • http://twitter.com/brettelockyer brette lockyer

    ” It feels like playing.” Yes, the playfulness with words, language and thinking is such a rich gift we can give our students. Writing: a nourishing, human activity that endures essays and test scores and helps out to connect with others all our lives!
    cheers
    Brette

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  • Kai Cameron

    Great column. You
    sound exactly like someone I’d love to know. Keep celebrating you. The world
    needs a lot more people just like you. Thanks for your honesty.

  • Abdullah Ahmed

    I agreed with your points
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  • http://essaywritingserviceus.blogspot.com/ Essay help college

    Great post! Blogging is unique way of writing which involves lot of research.

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    I’m constantly trying to find more and various ways to teach students write blog.
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  • Corey Topf

    Want some proof that supports Shelley’s argument? We watched “The Inside Job” in my 11th grade class recently, and this is what one student wrote as a reaction to the film. I know I’m biased, but I think it’s brilliant, and it highlights the REAL VALUE of blogs.

    http://gisellasilva.weebly.com/1/post/2014/03/its-a-game-where-everyone-fools-each-other.html

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