Just recently we revisited commenting. Our newspaper now has an online home, but we’re not getting a lot of traffic yet (frankly, that’s fine because we’re still tweaking the site and trying to establish a functional workflow). We reviewed three basic commenting rules:
1. Use your real name. For students, a first name and last initial are fine (remember, these are high school students).
2. Move the conversation forward. Add something meaningful to the conversation. It’s fine to agree or disagree, but explain WHY.
3. Re-read your comment before posting. Check for spelling and punctuation errors. It’s helpful to read the comment out loud to yourself or move your lips while you read it. Doing that will help you find any missing words.
I then set the students loose on the website. They found articles and blog posts that appealed to them and left comments. Some of them were profound. Some comments carried forward conversation about issues at school. Almost all of them really did add something to the conversation.
One other thing that I did before students started working was to grab a newspaper. I set the scene where I was at the breakfast table with a paper. A student was sitting across from me and we each had a section of the newspaper. As we read, we discussed the articles that caught our interest. Back in the day (as my students say), the conversation about the article stopped there unless you took the time to write a Letter to the Editor. Nowadays, you can have a conversation with the writer of the story and every other person who reads and comments on the story! I saw the lights go on as they finally understood how conversations about online news stories really can make a difference.