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5 Teaching Techniques that will Improve your Blogging

TeacherIn this post Leslie Madsen-Brooks explores 5 teaching techniques that bloggers might like to explore to connect with their readers

The best teachers–from first-grade teachers to university instructors–employ some simple techniques that bloggers can use to their advantage.

image by Patrick Q

Here are five of my favorites:

1. Find unexpected common ground.

A couple years ago, I was standing in front of a classroom of 100 college students immersed in small-group discussions. Try as I might, I had a hard time getting them to reconvene. So I pulled out a trick I had seen elementary school teachers use. I took a deep breath and said, “One, two, three–eyes on me!” About a dozen students responded with “One, two–eyes on you!” — an effect that astonished us all and allowed us to share a laugh. Many of my students had been conditioned years ago to respond to that simple rhyme, and they were surprised to see the technique had made its way around the state and the country, that it wasn’t unique to their own first- or second-grade experiences.

Similarly, I’m always delighted when I find a blogger who establishes novel common ground among his or her diverse readers. Sometimes that connection is ridiculously simple and tied to Internet pop culture, such as a recent post on the fabulous professorial blog Edge of the American West called I CAN HAZ SPLENDID WAR?. I didn’t care much about the sinking of the Maine in 1898, but the post title’s reference to LOLcats made me read on, and I was tricked–tricked, I tell you!–into placing history into a contemporary perspective and vice versa.

2. Offer points for participation.

At my university, faculty can’t grade students on attendance. One way, therefore, to get students to come to class is to offer incentives for participation (or, some would say, punitive consequences for non-participation). Each student’s final grade in any of my classes, therefore, depends a good deal on how much–and well–he or she contributes to class discussion. Students appreciate it when faculty weave student contributions into the fabric of a lecture or class discussion.

Bloggers do much the same thing when they pull a reader contribution from the comments and make it the inspiration–or even reason–for a new post. It’s a way of driving a conversation into different direction but it also rewards readers who leave quality comments.

3. Know every student’s name by the second day of class.

In a large lecture class, this tactic may be beyond the capability of most faculty. But when I have classes of 25-50 students, I try to learn their names as quickly as possible, usually by letting them introduce themselves while I madly take notes on their appearance and their quirks so that I can remember them in the next class period. (A colleague of mine uses Facebook to study her students’ photos.)

If someone stops by your blog and comments meaningfully or comments several times in a short span of time, drop her a line to thank her for her participation and to welcome her to the community. Take notes on what your commenters say so you can refer back to them when the opportunity arises. Even better, go leave comments on your reader’s blog. In the corner of the blogosphere I frequent, there are 100 or so blogs where the commenters all seem to know one another’s stories. It’s a powerful community that came about through reciprocal links and comments.

4. Give meaningful, fun homework assignments.

At my university, we’re on a 10-week quarter system. Science students begin taking “midterms” during week 2-3 of the quarter. Accordingly, science majors enrolled in my courses are tempted to stop doing the reading assignments at this time. To encourage them to read, I make sure to provide interesting homework and in-class assignments that require students to read all the course texts and come prepared to talk about them. Students are rewarded for doing the reading when they come to class and receive the respect of their peers for contributing meaningfully to our conversations.

Blog contests and challenges provide similar stimulus for reader involvement. Right now I’m very much enjoying how Dave Navarro is blogging his way through Christine O’Kelly’s e-book on freelance writing. He hasn’t explicitly given homework to his readers, but I’m inspired to follow along just the same, especially since I purchased O’Kelly’s book.

More explicitly in this vein, Darren offered his readers a 31-day course in building a better blog, complete with such homework as link up to a competitor and do a search engine optimization audit on your blog.

5. Be interdisciplinary.

While teaching, it’s easy to get stuck in the rut of your discipline. For example, just about everyone in your department might use the same textbook for a particular course, so all students get stuck learning the same material from the same source in the same way. But if you’re in chemistry and your students are looking a bit bored, you can liven up your discussion of sugar versus saccharin by tossing in some history of how sugar was rationed in the U.S. during WWII in part so that candy bars and other sugary treats could be sent to U.S. soldiers, whom, it was believed, needed sugar for energy. Saccharin, in the form of saccharin pills, therefore became a necessary sugar substitute–and a chic accessory on middle-class dining tables. Paint a humorous picture for your students of 1950s housewives using teeny tiny prongs to pick up saccharin tablets from bejeweled, turtle-shaped saccharin containers, and your students have a new context for their learning.

Similarly, if you blog in, say, the internet marketing niche, it’s easy to simply re-blog the same techniques everyone else is using and to promote the same affiliate programs. Why not branch out into another discipline or field–online or off–in order to bring new perspective to your readers? What, for example, are librarians doing to help clients better find the information they need? What can you learn about keyword searches and keyword research from their techniques?

Leslie Madsen-Brooks helps a broad spectrum of clients–including university faculty, K-12 schools, museums, and businesses–develop better learning experiences online and off. Among other venues, she blogs at Museum Blogging and The Multicultural Toy Box.

About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
  1. Excellent list of strategies Leslie! I can speak from experience in saying that #4, the blog “challenge” is quite effective! In my opinion, Dave is a genius for starting this challenge. Not only has it proven effective for sales, but we’re having a great time with the whole thing.

    I’ve also challenged Dave’s time management coaching programs to help me find more time that I will use to reach my goal of $20,000 in passive income by year’s end. Bring it on Navarro!

    :) Christine

  2. I think knowing your readers by name is really important. Readers like to be a part of a blog when they feel appreciated. I used to be more active with emailing commentors than I am now that my blog has grown a bit. I got a lot of really positive responses from a simple email to say thanks.

  3. In some things that I have learn’t over the years is that people want to feel Special.
    Knowing their name is Great! I’ve been reading and learning about working with people and leadership. I’ve written some things about it. I Like blogging about it.

    What you say is VERY true. With blogging you deal with people. As you would when doing public speaking (Teachers) or even working one on one.

    I like what you say Darren, and Agree with you 100%


  4. Connecting with your readers is one of more important things in blogging. Many bloggers often forget that.

    Great post. Thanks! :-)

  5. I think the use of social networking sites like MyBlogLog help us to interact with our readers at a more personal level. I am bad with names in the real world, but remember everyone online.

    Doubt my readers are up for homework, but when asked they often do post comments.


  6. Some of these can really take you back to the old days. Makes me kind of wish I was in elementary school again if only for a moment. However the tip on knowing everyone’s name, that’s a bit hard especially if you have a large readership. It’s different than having 30 students.

  7. Being able to find common ground is a great way to reach out to your readers/students! I remember when I was giving in-person seminars on Internet recruiting; I’d always spend the day before searching out trivia regarding the particular industry about which I was going to teach. It always sparked increased interest and attention.

    Making the connection – that’s what teaching is all about.



  8. I have always found that the best teachers tell stories that are so compelling that the students are transfixed and refuse to leave until they hear the whole thing. Be interesting. Be very interesting. Tell a story that people want to hear.

    Not only will people listen to it…they will tell their friends how great it was and that they should also listen to it.

    Great teachers tell interesting stories.

    The Masked Millionaire

  9. What I like about this post is that it sees a blog as a sort of classroom (in the best sense of the word, not in the boring sense of the word). After all, often times people frequent a blog (like this one) because they want to learn something. As such, it makes sense to see what works in the real classroom and apply it to our virtual classroom.

  10. I must side with The Masked Millionaire on this one… The only teachers i remember are the ones that did just that… tell stories that thought us… and the ones that didn’t… well, i found other things to do in class (which got me out of class most of the time !)

    Great post, i like the co-relation with the blogging world.

  11. This is a good post. I think that I will be implementing some of these things soon on my blog.

    it seems that community seems to be a factor that always shines through.

    If you can build community, you will have a successful blog, and many of these tips promote that.

    Community! Just to emphasize my point.

    G o db l e s s

  12. very interesting article especially for those who are still new into blogging and still finding their niche and direction…especially helpful for the growing number of young people who are getting engrosed with blogging.



  13. I’ve found that one of the greatest ways to learn something, is to try to teach it. I think it’s a great way to look at blogging; as a classroom. We just have to remember to see it from the view of the student as well.

  14. I definitely agree with rule #5 regarding interdisciplinary writing. The world’s becoming more and more thirsty for knowledge. The more info you can give on a topic (without dragging on and too much), the better.

  15. I like the picture.. nice matching and effort to connect to the content..

    – Wakish –

  16. Thanks for writing this post. It has given me some new ideas to try as I teach volunteers I work with in a non-profit organization. I’ve been struggling to figure out how to teach them a process without it seeming overwhelming to them. This post will also help me improve the content on my blog, and I appreciate the help.

  17. I agree with Wakish. Certinly, I was more attracted to this article due to the top picture. Very cute little guy there. It did encourage me to go through the whole content. :)

  18. All excellent techniques. I always try to blog from a readers perspective- what will catch their attention and want them to return? Being disciplined and using techniques such as this will only make your blog of better quality. Thanks for the list!

  19. Thanks so much for your comments, everyone. I’m glad that you’re finding the post useful.

  20. But Facebook dont give the person real name, would you require them to join your facebook? useful info anyway.

  21. Great content – thank you. You have even resented it with excellent education technique – perfect common ground as we have all been in a classroom for a good part of our lives!

    I would be interested in ways to apply these or other techniques to bring people to the blog – these mostly seem to be for keeping people connected, which of course is vital too.

    Thanks for your work – I’ll be passing on your information to a few museum and archives people that I know.

  22. Thanks for the referrals, David H. I appreciate it!

  23. Nice post.
    Applying this techniques will definetly help for better reader ship.
    The author has to know what the corresponding readers are looking for.

  24. I got a lot of really positive responses from a simple email to say thanks.

  25. good tips, remember me that facebook is great tool to get profile student. thanks for sharing.will improve my blog

  26. When you teaching using blog, what to do if somebody try to hurt your blog, to be rude ?

  27. Orfej,

    When I’ve taught using blogs, I’ve never had a problem with outsiders abusing the comments. If you’re having a problem with such people, I recommend installing comment spam filters (e.g. Akismet), enabling comment moderation, and/or blocking the users’ IP addresses.

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