Collaborative Writing to Develop the 21st Century Learner

Collaborative writing is strong for bringing ideas together, capitalizing on individual strengths, and building in feedback. When I walked into Mrs. Bliss' 5th grade class to work on the Student Blogging Challenge #3, "Me on the Internet," they decided to write their post collaboratively.

How can students successfully write a collaborative post (or written work)?

Build Background Knowledge (while hooking their interest)

First, we watched this video called Digital Dossier by DigitalNatives, introduced to us in Miss W's post for the Edublogs Student Blogging Challenge #3. Before playing the video, we asked them to focus on two questions to discuss after the video:
  • What is a Digital Dossier?
  • Why is it important to each one of us?

Following the video, we went back to our guiding questions and asked them what it was and why it's important. The students were quite involved in their discussions because of its relevance to their lives.

Introducing Tracy's Favorite Graphic Organizer

I once saw this organizer on a bulletin board and thought it was genius because it helps organize ideas while allowing for creativity.

Box 1: Introduction

After their discussion, I asked "What's the main point they will want to make in their post?" or "How can you protect your digital dossier?" They said two things:
  1. Stay safe online
  2. Be positive online 
Next, I shared my favorite ways I like to start writing:
  • a quote
  • a question
  • an interesting or shocking fact
  • a sound (typically better for creative writing)
For this post, what would be the best starter? The students agreed on a question, and brainstormed until they narrowed it to two questions.

Box 2: Define it

Box 2 it makes the most sense to define the topic.

Box 3: First main point -- Being safe

This is based on one of the two main points from Box 1. They had to explain why being safe online is important to their digital dossier.

Box 4: Second main point -- Being positive

This is the second main point outlined in Box 1. Again, it's key to explain why it's important to be positive (instead of saying negative things about others, etc).

Box 5: Conclusion

Box 5 is actually a repeat of Box 1, but for the purpose of concluding. I emphasize that repeating something from Box 1 gives the reader a sense of closure.

Collaborating on the Writing

We organized the class in five groups and asked who wanted to write each of the five parts based on the graphic organizer.

Within each group, we had one or two typers (sharing their document in Google Apps), editors, word choice wizards, and task masters (helping with ideas and focusing the group). It's important to clearly define the roles in each group, and to talk about norms of collaboration, so the groups work together smoothly. Taking the time to set the tone for collaboration is worth it.

When the groups were ready, they filled in their part of the graphic organizer, then started working on their paragraph(s).

Final draft

As we collected each of the groups' paragraphs electronically, I had a few students help with the final draft. It was hands-on modeling the revision process. They grappled with tense, point of view, and voice. They also chose to put the video in for depth, as well as links to other blogs.

Click here to see their final product.

Alternative way to use Tracy's Favorite Graphic Organizer

Final Remarks

Learning how to collaborate is a necessary 21st century skill, through experience will become a learning habit.

Modeling the writing process is key to developing the writer, and so is writing for an authentic purpose and audience. Blogging has been one of the easiest ways to model and build in the authentic audience.
  • What tips and trade-tricks do you share with your students to develop their confidence in writing?
  • How does working collaboratively improve the final product?
  • What else grabs your attention in this post?


  1. Wow! This is wonderful Tracy! We collaborate often with all kinds of activities, but I don't think I've ever really tried with writing. (I model writing all the time and will pull in ideas from individual students). The way you have outlined it here, makes the collaboration really seem doable.

    I am bookmarking this post to review later in the year when I think we are ready to try!

    Thank you for sharing!

  2. Hi Nancy,

    Thanks! I think back to my college years of preparing to be a teacher, and not once was the idea of collaborating on writing mentioned. However, we did talk about jigsawing the reading, or jigsawing the assignment by assigning groups of students to work on certain parts. For all the reasons that collaborating as jigsaw groups is beneficial, it's also beneficial to collaborate as writers on occasion... I'd love to hear how it goes in your class.

    Kind regards,

  3. Tracy, I love this organizer. I have several graphic organizers, and have had students collaborate in a similar way in Google Apps. I do have a project coming up and your organizer fits with the persuasive essay lessons I teach. I think it will make more sense to the kids

    Once your students start collaborating, and with your school's focus on project based learning, then soon your students will be creating their own writing projects. Here's how two of my students extended our contest writing to honor the Veterans on Veterans Day:

    Tristen and Mysti's Veterans Day Project

    My writing classes always benefit from the things you share. Thank you.

  4. Hi Sheri,

    Thanks so much for your feedback! I'm glad you'll get to use this graphic organizer.

    I agree, working collaboratively through the writing process strengthens them to write independently with confidence.

    I left your class a comment on your post. I'm so glad you shared that.

    Kind regards,


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