Two weeks ago, former NWA intern Maggie and I had the good fortune to participate as workshop leaders in Raw Voices 2012: Teens in the Media Arts Festival. This festival is hosted by Columbia College Chicago and celebrates the work and opportunities available to teens in the growing media arts industry with contests and special workshops.

Maggie and I led “Bloggers Rule!” – a workshop on the hows and whys of blogging, based on our own experiences with the NWA blog, and Maggie’s experiences with her personal blog. We hoped to give teens in the workshop a chance to learn how to express themselves effectively online, while building an audience and staying safe.

In introductions, we asked each participant to give their name, grade, and one reason that they were interested in blogging. Some teens were initially hesitant about what they had to say, but there was an amazing array of interests and ideas in the room, from cheerleading and movie-making to social justice and poetry. Some hoped to use their blog to teach about their particular interest, while others envisioned creating a discussion or learning environment.

Before participants began writing though, there was some learning to do. Maggie and I had prepared a slide show of some different blogs that focus on teen issues or have teen curators. We asked the participants for their ideas and suggestions about what made these blogs compelling and interesting to read. We came up with a great list of characteristics, which we eventually simplified into a “Dos and Don’ts for Blogging” list that each student could take with them. Students brought up things like clear content, pictures, and links to other posts of interest as important aspects of a successful blog.

The workshop also covered some of the more practical, but difficult aspects of blogging. We discussed the different platforms available to new bloggers, how to post pictures, create tags, and how to stay safe online. We fielded lots of great questions about running a website or maintaining a blog, or linking a blog and social media, but in the end we all agreed that good and interesting content is the most successful aspect of any blog.

Finally, it was time to write. Before participants actually sat down to write their firsts posts, they brainstormed about their topic, title and audience, as well as answering one very important question – “What will make the perspective of your blog unique?” You can read some of the answers here, on the NWA live blog from the day of the event.

After the live blog, students had thirty minutes to free write, and almost everyone managed to open an account with a blogging service or draft a post during that time. Seeing the excitement and engagement these young bloggers brought to the table was a wonderful reward for Maggie and me, and I think everyone took something valuable away from the workshop.