Branding Student Writing
My husband and I dine at new restaurants every chance we get. We even have an Instagram account to share all of our experiences! There are, however, a handful of restaurants we always come back to on those exhausting Fridays where we just need to grab a quick bite to eat and decompress. One of those places is this out-of-this-world Thai/Laotian restaurant called, Bangkok Golden. When we crave authentic Pad Thai, Mee Kathi, or Crispy Basil Chicken, we know we can always depend on Bangkok Golden to serve us exactly what we remembered from the last time we were there. Authentic Thai and Laotian food is what they are known for and I am so grateful for that. I love what they offer. I love their brand.
Our loyalty to restaurants is very similar to our loyalty to blogs and authors. There are certain blogs I am loyal to because I like what every blog post is about and I love the quality of the posts. This combination of a blog’s topic and how the posts are written creates a brand. Branding is what a blog needs to gain readers. Readers will continue to come back if a blog’s brand speaks to them. It is something a reader can depend on. For instance, when I need to find a good book to read, I always go to the Nerdy Book Club blog first. I love their brand and it never fails me. When I want to spice up my fashion, I am loyal to Atlantic-Pacific. The girl can dress and her gigantic following of readers says it all. My best friend, Ashley, loves a good cooking blog and her current favorite is Skinny Taste. Whenever she wants to try a new recipe, she doesn’t waste time shopping around. She goes right to Skinny Taste. She trusts them and as a result, I trust them too.
But how often are we using blogs in schools for the purpose of branding? It is hard as teachers to not assign writing challenges or writing topics to our students but if we were to let that go and just coach our students into creating a brand for themselves as writers, what would happen? Would they hate it or would they do what the grown-up bloggers do and fall in love with writing?
It is definitely different than what we have been taught to do as writing teachers. We are taught to inspire students to write by giving them lots of writing themes or ideas. Unfortunately, no matter how brilliant our writing topics are, our topics are ours, not theirs. We must teach students how to find their own writing topics by sifting through their own life and their own stories. It’s scary at first especially if you’re like me and have secret control-freak tendencies. But, having seen the outcome, becoming a topic-inspirer rather than a topic-producer makes teaching writing a magical process.
I challenge you to rethink how you use blogs in your classroom. Let go of the weekly prompts or the writing assignments. Instead, spend a long week helping students develop their brand. Help them list potential topics and then push them to double check that their topic is sustainable by creating a list of 5 blog posts they could already write in relation to that topic. A good brand takes time.
Here are some fabulous branded blogs written by my 5th graders and my wonderful colleague Kelly Purman’s 7th graders:
Know that just like any other writing, branding a blog requires guidance and mentors. The magic happens if and only when we dedicate our teacher role to the following:
- Writers need mentors! Provide real blog posts for students. If they want to write about fashion, find a fashion blog for them to use.
- Notice how bloggers begin and end posts
- Notice how bloggers tell information
- Notice how bloggers use media and hyperlinks to support their writing
- Be their marketer! Create an audience for them.
- Share with staff, friends, and social media
- Coach when necessary. Give them feedback but focus on craft instead of mechanics.
- Let them write in class. Developing bloggers need to see others in action.
- Don’t have blogging as extra credit.
This last point is crucial. Blogging should not be in addition to what you are teaching in writing. Let blogging be the core of writing instruction. Teach into what they are writing. As writing teachers, we need writing pieces so that we know what to teach students. Use the blogs! I have had students create an “author’s corner” to share what convention they have learned to apply into their writing. I have had students comment on each other’s blogs to apply main idea or author’s purpose.
These branded blogs will start off rocky and need at least three blog posts to take off. Keep at it. The real audience will soon keep writers accountable as their brand becomes a demand and their followers are eagerly waiting for the next post. A blog’s brand becomes more than just a writing assignment, it becomes a writer’s identity.
One of my fifth-grade bloggers came to me one morning and said, “Ms. Hale, I woke up in the middle of the night with a blog post idea. I didn’t know what to do! Is this normal?”
Yes, sweet amazing writer. IT IS.