How to Encourage Constructive Commenting

“Great Job!👍😍”

“I really liked your writing!👏❤️”

“Awesome!!!!💛 💚 💙 💜”

Flashback: year one.

Yes, the first days my middle school students began blogging and commenting on each others work in the classroom looked like colorful skittles on the page. The comments were a combination of emoji icons and short, clipped phrases of “nice job” and “keep it up!”  Clearly, I had not thought about “quality comments” as we began the adventure of connecting the entire eighth grade and sharing their writing on a classroom blog. After the first several blog post assignments, I realized, like any peer revision workshop, or socratic circle discussion, students needed expectations and guidance to begin practicing what I now call “quality comments.”

Fast-forward: year four.

“Anna, I love this post. I agree with everything you said in this post, such as ‘our generation is so quick to judge other people by looks and appearance, we don’t even get a chance to see what the person is like on the inside.’ Very true and even sad to think that what we wear/look like matters so much, not only to ourselves but to other people.”

“Great poem, I loved the lines ‘ghosting through trees, unseen, and trying to out fox the fox.’ And I like the way the poem flowed…” 

As a language arts teacher I know that there are skills we assume our students know before coming to our classrooms, but we often overlook how little students actually learn how to communicate with one another—give constructive feedback, build-off each other’s opinions in conversations, and normal conversation etiquette. These conversation skills are important when we blog—how do we leave thoughtful, constructive comments? How do we create Posts that initiate a conversation between your audience and yourself?

These are great questions our students need guidance on to make a reality. It is a skill to be modeled and practiced, and the blog is a great opportunity to practice these conversation skills, and often!

Nowadays, when I introduce blogging for the first time to my incoming students, I begin with modeling expectations of what it means to write “quality comments.” These are some of the tips I’ve learned help my students become more thoughtful responders to each other’s work:

First, you want to show the author of the post that you actually took the time to read their work. No one really likes to get a comment that says “Great Job!!!” What was great? Did they actually read my post? Did it connect to them in some way? We discuss this as a class and compare “comments” and which ones we would rather get from another reader.

Second, we talk about what kinds of things we might comment on. Sometimes the post asks for the audience to leave a personal connection or answer a question, but most of the time, it is up to the reader to build the bridge.

With my middle school students we have our class poster, our “Comment Toolbox” of ideas for quality commenting which contains at least these basics: share a personal connection to the Post, ask questions to further conversation, offer advice for elaborating, and share what you like by referencing or quoting from their Post.

Finally, I always comment on students’ work as well, and I make sure that I am always modeling “quality commenting” and living up to our class blogging expectations.

The end of another year is approaching, and we’ll need to refresh our communication skills next year, but we’ll be able to build off our foundation and continue practicing thoughtful, quality commenting on our class blogs that I think will only be a great start to effective communication skills everywhere else in the classroom.

About the Author
Katie can often be found in the language arts middle school classroom during the school year attempting to engage students with some of her favorites: creative drama, global books, blogging, and any kind of writing. On weekends it all depends on the season: hiking in the hills with her husband and yellow lab, cross-country skiing, reading books, coaching soccer, swimming or out running. Atop all of that, she also enjoys traveling the world and visiting family that lives scattered across the U.S. Of all things, she hopes to teach and live life with passion.

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