Thursday, June 17, 2010

Students Researching and Responding Online

Chapman (2001) says “people learn to write when they have something to write about, when there is an
immediate need for the writing, and when they have a real audience for the communication” (p. 93). Because my middle school Language Arts students have expressed an interest in environmentalism,
I have developed a lesson plan requiring them to read an article on this topic and to write a review of the article. Because their literacy needs include ICT literacy, the article they will read will be found online, and their reviews will be published online; to be shared not only with classmates and teachers, but with all who access it online. Students will be motivated by the opportunity to impact an authentic audience via technology, regarding a topic they feel passionately about.


1. Students will strengthen their “Information Literacy: The ability to access and use information, analyze content, work with ideas, synthesize thought, and communicate results” (Holum & Gahala, 2001, p. 1). They will learn to use the social bookmarking site “StumbleUpon,” practice word-processing with Microsoft Word, and send and receive email with attached documents. Students will also critique the online article they read, and communicate their analysis through a blog post.

2. Students will “write pieces…that use structures appropriate to audience and purpose” (Maine Dept. of Ed., 1999, G. 3.). They will be writing for an authentic audience with the purpose of making a positive impact on the environment.

Preparation for Writing

For this assignment, I created an online bookmarking account using “StumbleUpon.” I located a selection of appropriate web sites with links to articles about conservation, biodiversity, environmental activism, etc. Most of these articles focus on ways in which kids can enact change. Some are written at an adult reading level, while others will be more accessible to struggling readers.

Bookmarked Sites:








I bookmarked each of the Web sites selected at my StumbleUpon site simply by clicking “Like” after I downloaded the program provided at “” I have a public account now, with the user name “mssherrie,” where my students can easily view my favorite sites; the sites I wish them to visit. This allows students to click on links that I have experimented with and approved, rather than searching randomly for appropriate sources or trying to type in long url addresses.

Once students have an opportunity to preview the long list of environmental web sites and articles, they are to select one article to focus on. Students will read the article using their laptops, taking notes in their reading logs as they read. Upon completion of their reading and note-taking, students will practice a prewriting strategy of thinking about what they want to say using “five minutes of monitors off free-write” (Kajder, 2003, p. 67).

Writing Assignment

Students will write a review of the environmental article they read, using Microsoft Word. A review includes a brief summary of the article, as well as the student’s evaluation of the article. (Was it effective? What was the author’s perspective? Would you recommend this article to others?) Students must include specific examples from the article to support their evaluations. They should use quotation marks and citations when necessary in their critique of the article.


Students will submit their reviews to me as attachments to email, because they are written using Microsoft Word. They will receive feedback from me via email, and they will have time to revise and resubmit their reviews, within one week.

I recently created a blog at “,” because I am starting a club at the elementary school called “Junior Environmentalists.” Once my students’ reviews are completed, I will publish them on this blog. The blog was created primarily as a resource for younger children and their families. Therefore, this is an opportunity for my seventh grade students to publish for an authentic audience, eager to learn about the topics they are discussing. Chapman (2001) points out “by displaying their work on Web sites, students have the ability to publish their writing for the whole world to read” (p. 96). This blog is a place where my students’ writing may be viewed by other students worldwide, by their parents, their peers, and their other teachers. Their words may have a meaningful impact on other young environmentalists.

Of course, I will first send home permission slips, explaining the project to parents and asking for consent to publish their childrens’ work online. (In the case that a parent does not grant this permission, the student will still complete the assignment and email it to me for assessment.)


“Current research and class practice demonstrate that students tend to write more when using a computer, are more willing to take scholarly risks, display more engagement with texts, and gain a clearer sense of voice and audience” (Kajder, 2003, p. 66). I believe this will be an effective writing assignment for all of these reasons; as well as the fact that students will stop and write to reflect before composing. Additionally, the writing prompt explains what the expectations are for writing a review, and the email correspondence allows me to differentiate instruction as needed for each student author. Best of all, my students and I will end up with a genuine resource to be shared with a wide audience, in our Junior Environmentalists blog. The writing assignment is ongoing, as the blog allows visitors to leave comments. Although I must sign in to the blog to post responses, I could post messages on behalf of my students as they email them to me, if they wish to continue communicating through the blog.


Chapman, L. (2001). Real live audiences for real live communication: Writing to learn and the possibilities of technology. In H. A. Scarborough (Ed.), Writing across the curriculum in secondary classrooms: Teaching from a diverse perspective (pp. 91–99). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Holum, A., & Gahala, J. (2001). Critical issue: Using technology to enhance literacy instruction. Retrieved April 7, 2005, from

Kajder, S. (2003). Going beyond word processing. In The tech-savvy English classroom (pp. 65–76). Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

Maine Department of Education. (1999). Maine’s learning results. Augusta, ME: State of Maine.

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