Hyperlinked Writing in the Classroom- From Theory to Practice

This is the follow up post to the theoretical Wondering About Hyperlinked Writing. The post ended with

Now…on from the wondering, theory and resources…to the practice in the classroom.

I am ready to bring hyperlinked writing (and reading) as an important genre into the classroom!

Can one just start “throwing” hyperlinked writing” at our students (or teaches for that matter) at any time, at any age? Is hyperlinked writing part of a process? A process that starts with reading digitally, reading quality and poor samples of digital writing? Students then progress to writing comments, learning how to comment on the writing of others to learning how to write for an audience on their own blog posts. Hyperlinked writing is that next step up in writing for a an audience.

Hyperlinked writing is more than citing your sources, it is a direct manifestation of writing for an audience.

A quick check-in with my Common Core Guru, Mike Fisher, author of “Cure for the Common Core“, told me that I was on the right track.  He said:

You are actually addressing several capacities in what you’re describing:
  •  Capacity 3: Students respond to varying demands of audience, task, purpose, and discipline.
  • Capacity 5: They value evidence. (Citations are in this realm, along with curation, and it is highly connected to number 6…)
  • Capacity 6: They use technology and digital media strategically and capably.

It shows the intent to guide the reader to:

  • where the author has been
  • his/her train of thought
  • providing a framework and context of the content background.
  • choices where to learn more

There are other reasons why we link digital content

  • Linking is a form of Content Curation
    We are placing specific resources and citations in the form of a
  • Filtering and refining relevant content for our readers (3C’s of Information Commerce by Brian Solis)
  • “The purpose of linking is to demonstrate to your audience that you are telling the truth.
    By means of the link, you provide your reader with the means to check up on you, to verify your claims, to follow up on the sources you say buttress your case, to find out if they really do reinforce what you are saying.” (Bloodhound Blog)

In the Quality Blogging Rubric, I developed for the use during our Quad-Blogging Action Research, links are addressed under the category “Community”. Under the “Expert”column it states that the blogger

  • has several links that add to the readers understanding
  • has  links that are relevant and “flow” within the content.

In retrospect, this description only seems to touch briefly on the importance and quality use of hyperlinks in digital writing.  (Note to self: Need to upgrade the rubric)

I started out with composing a paragraph together with the 4th graders on…. yes… a piece of paper. I wanted them to see the limitations of the traditional canvas of writing. Traditional meaning that the majority of current writing in schools end up on paper (handwritten or typed and then printed out).

  • Why do people  link in their online writing?
  • How do 9 and 10 year olds understand the use of links when they read online?
  • How can we translate this to their digital writing?
  • Understanding of linear and non-linear reading and writing

We Surf The Globe

On our blogs, we embedded a Clustr Map. A Clustr Map is a world map on your blog, that show you the location of the visitors of our blog. The map helps us visualize there our readers are from. We have been surfing the virtual globe  to countries all around the world, such as Thailand, Switzerland, and Czech Republic, because we know that they have read our posts.

I asked the students to copy the text we had written on the paper to their blog and to now add related links to the text. We discussed how the links should “flow” within the sentence and not just be “stuck” at the end, like “Click here to go to the ClustrMap”. (Note: Next time type the text quickly and post on my blog, to a shared Google doc or email them to each student. So much time was lost in typing the few sentences, which could have been spent on linking instead!)

I am departing from the assumption that at this point, students knew HOW to create a link on their blogging platform. This usually involves typing text, selecting and highlighting that text, clicking on a visual button (usually indicated with a chain linked together) and then entering the desired URL (Web Address) to underline and make the chosen text clickable once the post is published. Alternatively students might know or learn how to handcode a link in HTML

We watched the following video clip “Ethics of Linking” from Jay Rosen from the New York University. He says very simply:

The link, which is the idea, that you are interested in this, but did you know about THAT? Or HERE is what I’m saying, you should see what THEY are saying. You are here, but there is also this over THERE.

Take a look at Jamie B’s and Yoni H’s blog post and how they accomplished the task. By looking at all of the other student entries, I realized, that hyperlinking is not a one-lesson task, but a skill that students have to continue to practice and develop.

  • Some students did not add additional links beyond the one we included on the “practice paper post”.
  • Students did not go beyond adding links to other (which was the fault of not having a “better” practice paragraph) Note to self- need to develop a paragraph that includes the possibility to link to a variety of sources for hyperlinks

I did notice though, that these 4th graders were exhibiting a nice range of fluency in the logistical skills of creating links. I define this fluency as the ability to easily use the following skills and be able to adapt and change the order as and if needed.

Logistical Skills
that support fluency in hyperlinked reading & writing

  • pre-viewing the URL link BEFORE clicking
  • selecting a link in a browser
  • copying a link in a browser
  • creating a link on your digital page (either with HTML code or WYSIWYG editor)
  • pasting the URL into the link code
  • opening up a new tab in your browser to switch easily back and forth between digital writing page and pages to be linked.

Here are further thoughts and some activities for the classroom teacher to continue supporting and guiding his/her students in hyperlinked writing.

Yarn Blogging

Another brilliant idea from Bud Hunt has been Yarn Blogging. I recently used this technique with a group of teachers in a blogging workshop in New Zealand. The first step was for teachers to write a “blog post” on large stickie notes, then read these posts and “comment” on them by writing on small colorful stickies. The third step was for teachers to take yarn pieces and connect posts with other posts, posts with comments, comments with comments, etc.

Doing this activity with students might give them a tangible way of grasping  related content and how to connect them via a (yarn) link, not only making a connection between a name or word with a person’s website or a word’s definition.

Visual Mind Mapping

Using a mind mapping tool, such as Inspiration (software), Idea Sketch (iPad app) or Popplet (iPad app) to have students create a visual of linkable words in their text. Those could be organized by connection types. Allow students to see how  a visual mind map could translate into a hyperlinked text.

Non -Linear Writing

Are you familiar with “Choose Your Own Adventure Books“? How great would it be to allow students to map out such a story and link the choices on a mind map showing the links, flow and connections between choices. What if they were to choose to write their own”choice story” with different plots and outcomes according to the links embedded in the text? Students could use mind mapping apps again to design a flowchart of their story.

What to link to?

  • name –> online hub (website, blog, Twitter, Facebook profile, etc.)
  • brand name –> company’s website
  • word –> definition
  • quote–> original source
  • phrase –> content context/background
  • phrase–> someone else’s perspective
  • conversation –> Twitter Hashtag
  • example –>example in action/ demonstration of examples
  • theory –> practice
  • theme/topic/concept–> previous writing
  • collaborative writing pieces –> pieces of another contributor to the topic


Choosing Link Text

Use text for your link:

  • one-word keywords as links
    allow readers to skim over your writing to make a decision if they will read further
  • text is as descriptive as possible
    Just as the image above says, “Hyperlinked text MUST telegraph the destination”. Let readers know what content to expect when they click on the link
  • keep the amount of underlined words to a minimum.
    Don’t create links with link text as long as a sentence or an entire paragraph
  • embed the links within the flow of writing avoid adding a “click here”

Please share your ideas of teaching hyperlinked writing in the classroom. How have you approached the genre with your age group of students? What have you learned? What are some of your trial and errors?