Whether the main purpose of the assignment is to develop a particular kind of writing (i.e. persuasion) or to practice writing in order to more deeply understand a particular topic (i. e. a historical event or work of literature) this activity seems like it might be useful for high-school or possibly middle-school students.
What I propose is that a class blog be setup such that every student in the class have the ability to post an entry as opposed to just a comment. (The Upper-School Reading Team and MS book review blogs are examples at D-E.) Students would then be assigned to go out and find a piece of writing on the Internet (another blog would allow trackbacks, defined below) that raises an opinion on a topic.
If the purpose of the lesson is to practice a particular kind of writing such as persuasion then students could be allowed to find something expressing an opinion different from theirs on any topic in which they have a strong interest. Otherwise, students could assigned a particular topic. In some cases, it might make senses for the teacher to identify a collection of sites or weblogs that focus on the a particular topic being studied. Some search engines that specialize in searching weblogs, which could be used by either a teacher setting up a lesson or by students searching themselves include Technorati, Google Blogsearch, and others.
After finding something appropriate to read and respond to, each student would then post a reply on the class blog to what they read. This reply would be done as a "trackback" comment to the original post. A trackback shows up as a comment to the original post (if this feature is supported by both blogs). Its function is to promote communication between blogs. An except of the post would appear on the original blog as a comment with a link back to the students post on the class blog. (If the automatic trackback isn't supported, a student could just manually post an excerpt with a link to the full post.) This post on TabletTails is an example of using this procedure to comment on a Teachers and Tablets post.
This assignment could have the following advantages:
- Students need to evaluate the writing and credibility of an outsider whom they can't assume is an expert.
- Students have to critically read to prepare for writing.
- Students' writing has the potential to be directed to a particular audience besides the teacher.
- Students have the opportunity to be motivated by the chance of their writing being read by an outside audience.
- The opportunity for authentic feedback on the topic is possible through the original writer seeing the comment and responding.
By the way, if you checkout the Teachers and Tablets webblog, don't let the label "Listen to podcast of article", which refers to the audio files mislead you. The audio recordings are not the text of the blog posts. Sometimes the discussions are closely related to the text of the blog posts, and sometimes the conversations wander from what is written. However, they have all been very good so if you have some interest in one-to-one computing and literacy, give a listen, and post your reaction as a comment to the blog.