Last year, I decided to experiment with Google’s 20% time during our literature circles unit. I love the idea of giving students time to pursue their passions and work on something that is meaningful to them. Some students chose to work on their own, while others banded together to focus on shared interests. It was fascinating to see the myriad projects that were born from this 20% time. Students composed and performed pieces of original music, they designed intricate board games, and others built worlds using Minecraft and used their virtual worlds as inspiration for creative writing.

This year, I’m bringing that 20% philosophy to student blogging. I’ve always wanted students to blog, but organizing that many blogs felt overwhelming. I also worried about student buy in. What would get them excited to design and write a blog? This is where the 20% time philosophy comes into play.

I asked myself, “Why do I want my students to blog? What do I hope they would gain from the experience?” I identified the following as goals for their blogging:

    • Create a positive digital footprint
    • Use media strategically to communicate information visually
    • Cite media that was created by others
    • Take pictures and learn basic photo editing
    • Record and post videos to complement text
    • Produce well written blogs
    • Capture audience interest and generate a readership

I realized that it didn’t matter what they blogged about, because that wasn’t the point of blogging at all. Why did I need to control their topic? I didn’t. In the same spirit as 20% time, I told students they would be using Blogger (just another super awesome free tool connected to their Gmail accounts) to create a blog on any topic they were passionate about.

We read and annotated (using Diigo), and discussed articles about how to design and write an effective blog. Once students had selected a topic, identified an audience and  decided on the aesthetic details, I asked them to complete the form below.

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 As I expected, students were excited, and the wide range of blog topics reflected their diverse interests and passions. Students are writing about everything from fashion to Pokemon to international soccer.

Below are some screenshots of blogs created by my students.

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Once students have spent time perfecting the art of blogging (and it’s definitely an art form), we will begin tracking site visits, and pushing out their ideas via social media. These are the kinds of life skills that will help them long after they have left my class.

Second semester, their blogs will serve as inspiration for a 20% project of their own design! I can’t wait to see what they come up with.

If other educators have successfully implemented 20% time into their classrooms, I invite you to share your experiences!

29 Responses

  1. Thank you Catlin. I found your post interesting and validating as I agree that blogging plus 20% time creates a powerful connected learning recipe. Relevancy and authenticity are at the heart of this and that’s why students will be intrinsically motivated by this design. Good stuff!

    • Thank you, Robert!

      I totally agree about the power of connecting learning to life. Relevance and authenticity is so important to motivation. Too often students don’t see the connection between what they learn in class and their “real” lives outside of class.


  2. What a wonderful idea for engaging students…I am going to implement this in my classroom (7/8 students). Thanks for sharing some great examples!

  3. The student blogs are fabulous!! Thank you for including photographs to use as models in our own classrooms. Would you be willing to share the articles you used to learn about how to design and write an effective blog? Thanks.

  4. I really love the idea of my students creating a blog over topics that interest them. I’m going to implement this next semester, but I’m not quite sure the best way to get them started. Is there rubric that you followed? Is there anything that you would do differently?
    Thanks for all your great tips!

    • Hi Angela,

      My biggest piece of advice is to collect every student’s information with a Google Form. I asked them to submit their names, email, blog URL, subject of the blog and intended audience. This way when I grade their blogs, I work straight from the spreadsheet and click on their hyperlinks. It simplifies the process.

      I assess each blog differently. In the beginning I evaluated writing and quality of content. Now, I am looking for high quality media with reference information and attention grabbing titles. We focus on different elements as we progress. I also link them to different articles and blogs about tips for blogging.

      It’s been wonderful! Many students have said they love blogging about topics they are passionate about. I love seeing their creative differences as they get the hang of blogging.

      Good luck.


      • Angela,

        First, your blog and tweets contain so much great information. You explain ideas very clearly and passionately!

        I just tried blogging with a low level senior English elective, and it went okay. When we start a new quarter I hope to try blogging again with an upper level senior English elective. Your blog post helped me realize how I can improve my blogging assignment. I do have a few questions that follow the same thread above.

        When you say you assess each blog differently, do you mean each student’s blog, or the blog assignments for a given time period (week, month, etc)? On your rubric, do you add criteria/qualities/ideas that you are expecting students to incorporate each assignment deadline?

        Finally, do you comment on all student blogs or just on the rubric? I had trouble with managing and commenting on the blog while keeping up with other writing assignments in class.

        Thanks so much!

        • Thank you, Karen. I appreciate the kind words.

          I have been assessing each blog, but I focus on particular elements – quality of writing, catchy/clickable title, media – to keep the assessments from becoming overwhelming. As the school year progresses, I want to have students begin assessing each other using a Google form and leaving substantive comments for each other. Before guiding them into a peer editing and commenting phase, I wanted to make sure they received detailed feedback from me first to make sure they are on track.

          I do not comment on their blogs. First, it is too time consuming to assess and comment on each blog. Second, I don’t want to intrude on their blogs, which are on topics they are passionate about. I leave comments directly in the rubric or in Jupiter grades for them.

          Good luck!


  5. I’m beginning to think it is kizmet that I start a 20% project. I just read about this concept on educationismylife and now this post. My AP students created blogs but we have yet to use them. This may be a great place for them to share their passions. Thank you for sharing your experience with this and other projects!

  6. Which blogging network do you use for your students? Do you plan on doing it again this school year? Enjoyed reading your blog!

    • Hi Edward,

      My students use Blogger since they all have Gmail accounts, and Blogger is already connected to their accounts. Then I collect their blog URLs using a Google Form.

      Yes, I definitely plan to have them all blog again this year!

  7. Thank you for all your great advice- I would love to try this.
    I wondered how you engage students who just aren’t interested or insist they have nothing to write about or no particular interest?

    • Hi Stacey,

      I’ve only had one student in three years really struggle to find a topic. I did give him topics at first and then he ended up taking over his blog writing about school and other everyday issues. It wasn’t necessarily his passion, but he enjoyed it more than he expected to (his words not mine ;).


  8. Thanks for your response. It’s great to know that you had so little trouble with participation. I definitely will try this! Thank you.

  9. I love Google forms, and I like your idea of focusing the assessment on different things as you progress.

    I’ve also used the idea of 20% time in my classes, but I didn’t want to restrict their writing to formal blog posts (though I have experimented with having them share share some of their polished work on blogs). Some students wrote cheesy pickup lines, songs, mysteries, and comics. I wrote a little bit about it .

  10. […] Student Blogs, Student Choice – Great blog post that explains how to get students started creating their own blogs on a topic of choice. A fun way to integrate student choice, personalized learning, and writing using digital tools. Elementary folks- this would be a great intervention block project for upper elementary students. […]

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  12. Could you tell me if you give them a required amount of words (or hyperlinks or videos or photos etc) for each blog? I’m about to start this for the first time, and I just want to make sure I’m not asking too much (or too little!).

    As usual, thanks so much for your work.

    • Hi Lindsay,

      I ask them to write at least 250 words (if they are not doing a video blog). Really long blogs tend to have a higher bounce rate, so I want them to keep their writing as clear and concise. I also always require that they include media since people reading blogs gravitate to those with images and video clips.

      Good luck with blogging!


  13. I am trying to convince our English department to try this, what is your opinion on an open platform like Blogger versus a moe private/contoled platform example kidblog.

    Working with a bunch of computer illiterate teachers I want to make it as easy and straight forward for the them.

    • I love Blogger, Renate. Since my kids already have a GAfE account, it’s super easy to use Blogger. I also have them submit a Google Form with their name, class name, title of blog, brief description, and URL. Then I use the spreadsheet to go directly to their blogs to assess their work. I also make a copy of that spreadsheet, delete all personal information, and share it with students so they can read and comment on their peers’ blogs.

      I hope that helps!


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