7 Projects to Help Students Write for Audiences Beyond the Classroom

Most assignments we assign in a writing class are created for the sole reader—the teacher. However, there is no reason students should write only for their teacher. Sharing their ideas with a broader audience can increase student motivation, encourage them to further develop their writing skills, help them connect and interact with many people from all over the world, and in some cases, even assist someone. In this post, I’d like to share a few examples of projects that you can implement in your course to help your students write for an audience beyond the classroom.

Review of a Product
Online product reviews are very common. Unbiased and well-written reviews can be very helpful to users, byers, and customers. The purpose of product reviews is simple: to help people decide if the product is effective and worth purchasing. As a teacher, you can create a course assignment in which students would write an online review of a product they are familiar with. To do that, students would have to examine the product carefully, perhaps even take notes on its positive and negative attributes, then think of why they initially bought the product and what they expected to get out of it. They could also consider answering these questions: Did this product satisfy your expectations? Why or why not? Would you recommend that others buy the same product?
To prepare students to write their review, you would develop several classroom activities and tasks helping them become familiar with genre characteristics of product reviews, and organizational and stylistic features. Students would also learn how to express their informed opinion about the selected product and how to contextualize the review within their experience.

Creating a Wikipedia Entry
Creating a Wikipedia entry would be an excellent assignment for an advanced-level writing course in which students are working on academic research skills. In addition to rhetorical, organizational, and research skills, which you would need to cover in class to help students compose their article, you can also use the following (or other available online) materials in order to guide the students through the process:

I also suggest that you encourage students to write on a topic they are familiar with or feel passionate about. This project can also be done as a group assignment.

Blog on English Learning (or Any Other Topic)
Blogs are a very popular writing genre, and hundreds of blogs are being written every day for various reasons, including establishing yourself as a professional; attracting potential customers and clients; exchanging ideas, thoughts, materials, and experiences; and meeting new people. In a writing course, a blog assignment can be a great opportunity for students to practice their writing skills, express themselves in a written form, share their experiences with others, and of course, reach to the readers beyond the classroom.

This assignment can be developed in many different ways, but the main point is blog regularity. In other words, students have to produce a series of entries in order to complete this project. Therefore, you should encourage them to write on something that they deal with on a daily basis. For example, they can write a blog on their English language learning experiences, or intercultural experiences (if applicable), or provide tips to other language learners or students studying abroad, or simply share their thoughts about a certain concept or problem. Options are numerous! You can also ask all students in the class to respond to each other’s blogs to establish a sense of interaction and further motivate the writers.

Writing an Analysis of a YouTube Video
You can also ask students to write a constructive and detailed analysis of a YouTube video and post it as a comment. Students would learn how to objectively evaluate a video by considering its positive and negative features. They would also learn about various rhetorical skills, including summarizing, forming, and supporting an argument; providing counterclaims and supporting them with examples; analyzing and evaluating; and proposing.

Responding to a Comment on a Video/Article
Instead of writing a detailed evaluation of a video, students can respond to a comment that other people provided on a video, article, or blog entry. Because students’ responses would probably be less detailed than full-fledged analyses, you can require several responses on various pieces (all of the same genre or various genres). Students would learn such rhetorical skills as arguing, providing counterclaims and supporting them with evidence, and expressing their opinion.

Sharing a Recipe on a Cooking Website
There are lots of cooking websites out there, where people share their favorite recipes and exchange culinary skills. This could be a great opportunity for students to share with the whole world something that they enjoy cooking or/and eating. From a rhetorical perspective, sharing a recipe is a chance for students to learn how to describe a process in a succinct yet clear manner. You can also encourage students to take pictures to supplement their step-by-step descriptions.

Alternatively, as a class, you can create a class cooking blog, where all students would post their favorite recipes. Finally, students can also create their own cooking blogs if they wish. They can be also thematic, for example, how to cook Chinese food from local ingredients (if you are teaching a class outside of China). Options are numerous! One important thing to remember, though: The descriptions of the recipes have to be students’ own, not copied from other websites or other electronic or materials.

School Newsletter
Finally, if your students don’t feel comfortable sharing their writing with the entire world, there are certainly other options of a smaller scale, for example, a school newsletter. Students could describe their intercultural or language-learning experiences, for example, or share thoughts about current events or report on participating in events and activities sponsored by the local community.

What Are Your Ideas?
Please feel free to share your ideas about projects teachers can implement in their writing classes to help students write for an audience beyond the classroom.

About Elena Shvidko

Elena Shvidko
Elena Shvidko is an assistant professor at Utah State University. She received her doctorate in second language studies from Purdue University and her master’s degree in TESOL from Brigham Young University. Her work appears in TESOL Journal, System, Journal on Response to Writing, TESOL interest section newsletters, and TESOL's New Ways series. Her research interests include second language writing, multimodal interaction, interpersonal aspects of language teaching, and teacher professional development.
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20 Responses to 7 Projects to Help Students Write for Audiences Beyond the Classroom

  1. Brooke says:

    This article is so helpful! I feel that this is an activity/lesson that can be extended and can help English Learners develop their writing skills. While reading, I kept imagining all the possibilities that I could take with each of the options. I feel that ELs may connect really well with the cooking/recipe website suggestion, because it can allow them the ease of talking about or describing a food that they enjoy while also allowing them to grow as young writers. It also helps them connect pieces of their culture into the classroom, which is always a bonus. I feel that all students will come out of each of these lessons with a great understanding of writing to an audience and making a personal connection for others to experience as well.

  2. Victoria says:

    Thank you for the ideas you shared in your blog! I love that the 7 projects you suggested are useful for a variety of audiences. As you mentioned, in many cases students write for the teacher, or just to get a grade on an assignment. However, you have provided many ways in which students can apply their writing to the real world. This helps students to realize that what they share through writing is important, valuable, and beneficial to others. The ideas that you presented are not typically taught in school, but are ways that we communicate with others each and every day in our society. EL students, as well as all students, can benefit from having experience with writing outside of the curriculum. Knowing how to do this properly is a skill that students can begin practicing and using at an early age and will prepare them for future use. Not only does this help develop vocabulary, but it seems so fun and engaging for students! Great blog!

    • Elena Shvidko Elena Shvidko says:

      I kindly appreciate your feedback. I hope some of these ideas can be applicable to your teaching context as well. Thank you for reading!

  3. Laurie says:

    This is a great posting, full of strategies and perspectives for teaching writing! I love that this begins with talking about the audience our students are writing for, and that it shouldn’t always be the teacher. This sentiment is one that often gets lost in writing instruction. We need to teach our students the ways in which they can alter their writing for various purposes.

    My favorite strategy that is listed is using youtube comments as a form of analysis and response! This is especially effective for EL students, as it provides for opportunities to link verbal communication and visuals in videos to writing. In this way, these videos can serve to bridge the gap between spoken and written word as these students acquire a new language.

    • Elena Shvidko Elena Shvidko says:

      Thanks so much for your feedback. If you decide to implement the idea of commenting on YouTube video, I’d be happy to hear about your experience. Thank you for reading!

  4. WYCHEN says:

    Great class activities. Can anyone share resources I can use to teach genre characteristics, organizational and stylistic features of product reviews? Does anyone know if there’s any rubric for evaluating YouTube videos?

    Thanks in advance.

    • Elena Shvidko Elena Shvidko says:

      Thank you for your questions, Wychen! Here is what I used in the product review assignment (taken from the handout given to me by other teachers in the program): “A good review will express the writer’s informed opinion about the artifact at hand. You must strive to contextualize the review within your experience, letting readers know how your interaction with the product was affected by your unique rhetorical situation. Couch your evaluation in terms of your experience, talking about an artifact’s success or failure in terms of how it worked—or didn’t—for you. While the arrangement of a review can vary by genre and subject, most will include a product overview or brief synopsis, an account of the artifact’s strengths, an account of the artifact’s weaknesses, and a measurement of its effectiveness using some set of criteria. Movies are generally rated out of 4 or 5 stars, as are products on sites like Amazon.com. Some people prefer to give a score out of 10, while others simply say thumbs up or thumbs down.”
      There is also a great article on writing product reviews by Irene Pollach (2006) “Electronic word of mouth: A genre analysis of product reviews on consumer opinion web sites”: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/cbae/73b7fe0feb2f55aa36c3823913c2d078bcfe.pdf

  5. Annie Tracz says:

    Thank you for writing this blog! I love of all you creative ideas about helping English learners write to another audience than the teacher. I think its so important that our students are culturally sensitive and understand that they have voice in our society. My favorite activity that you mentioned is the cooking recipe! I think that would be such a platform for students to write about because who doesn’t like food?! It also is a great way to show the world about other cultures and what dishes are important to the students family and culture.

    • Elena Shvidko Elena Shvidko says:

      Thank you, Annie! I am glad you enjoyed the ideas, and I agree with you about giving our students the opportunity to have voice in the society. And something as simple as sharing a favorite recipe could be a great way to connect with the world!

  6. Mary says:

    Analysis, product review, comments, feedback, recipe, and critiques; each of these are ways in which we communicate all the time. While these are the methods of communication we use they are not often seen in schools or educational settings. These opportunities support vocabulary development. These are types of skills that EL’s have not yet developed in lower grades. The best learning occurs when students have lessons on all types of learning styles and in several structures. These experiences listed above also have the potential to be very rich in culture. Another project to help students for multiple audiences is Email. Email and social media is often the way people are corresponding in schools and some serious etiquette and safety lessons could lie in this lesson suggestion!

  7. Rebecca Bowers says:

    Thank you so much! I teach Intermediate 3 ESL and have been looking for writing ideas beyond the basic paper. I will use some of these ideas next semester. Awesome article!

  8. Rachel says:

    Which blogging site is best for students? I would like to get students to start doing this, but I’m afraid of being able to control what is posted and how to manage it.

  9. Ji-young Shin says:

    Thank you, Dr. Shividko! I am not teaching public presentations, not writing, but I think these will be wonderful activities for communication, in general.

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