How to create a classroom website

Adrian Jimenez/Flickr (Creative Commons)

"How do I create a website for my classroom?"

This was the most common question I fielded from our eager group of new teachers on their first day of orientation this year, and the most common question teachers throughout the District have asked me as I've visited schools this week. So here are some quick steps to get you started.

If you already have a website but want to improve it, explore the resources below and let me know if you would like more support. I will plan a hands-on session for beginners, and another for teachers who already have websites but want to improve them, if there is enough interest. Let me know in the form below.

Why create a classroom website?

A website or blog is a great way to extend your learning environment beyond your classroom walls, and is an essential early step in effective technology integration. When I taught at BHS and RFHS, I always had a website for my classroom, and although it wasn't always pretty, it was a very useful portal for me to share links, assignments, and resources with my students. You can see my old site here, and another site I created for a PD workshop here. I hope we can make your website better than mine!

Another great thing about Google Sites (the platform we will use to create these sites) is that students can do this too. For class projects, students can easily create a website via their @rfschools.com email account using a Chromebook or other computer. You can allow them to add content to part of your site if you wish, and they can collaborate to create group sites for projects. Google Sites are really wikis, as you can allow multiple collaborators to edit Here are a couple of sites my students created a few years ago, with almost no training or support from me (death penalty site, plastic bags site)

Here are a few more examples of websites created in Google Sites, just to give you some ideas. As you look at these, focus on how easy and intuitive it is to find the information you need. A good website is clear and simple, uncluttered, with intuitive navigation prominently featuring the most important content.

From RFSD Teachers:


From teachers in other districts:
What about Blogs?
*A quick note about blogs vs. websites: In this post, I'm focusing on websites using Google Sites, because that is the platform that most teachers have found most useful so far. Creating a classroom blog is another option, and may be a better fit for you. The basic difference is that a blog is usually organized in reverse chronological order (like this blog that you're reading!), with the newest post at the top and everything else pushed down. A website is organized however you want it, with a homepage that is generally more static, with links and information that does not change often. If a blog sounds like a better fit for your needs, try Blogger.com (another Google app, which I'm using for this blog) or WordPress (which Sunny K. McClain uses for her art blog at BHS).

Let's do this!


STEP 1: DEFINE YOUR PURPOSE
Teachers create classroom websites for a wide variety of purposes, and the first step in creating yours is to clarify what you want out of it. You may want the website to accomplish many different goals, but it is wise to prioritize those so you can build your site accordingly. Common purposes of classroom or teacher websites include:
  • Communicating with parents: you can list your contact details, embed polls or forms for feedback, and let parents know what is happening in your classroom
  • Helping students stay organized: you can embed a calendar, link to assignments and rubrics, and help students stay on top of their work even if they miss class
  • Providing a portal for students to access web-based resources: you can add links to key websites for research and activities, so students can quickly click and go to the right place
  • Showcasing student work: you can add exemplars and images to showcase the great things your students are doing
If you have other purposes for your website, please share them with the rest of us!

STEP 2: SKETCH OUT THE BASIC STRUCTURE, OR SITE MAP, OF YOUR WEBSITE 
  • This will be easier if you have a clear idea of the purpose of your site. Think about what is most important, and put it on the homepage. Then think about what other pages are essential, and sketch them out. Don't worry about the design; just get the basic structure right.
  • You can sketch it out on paper, or use a digital tool like Google Drawing (see video below), or https://bubbl.usGliffy.com, or Power Point. Do whatever is easiest and most efficient for you, as this is just a planning tool that no one else will ever see.
  • This doesn't have to be pretty and it doesn't have to be perfect. It's just a general overview of how the site will be organized. Start with your homepage, and jot down the things you want people to see right when they land on your site (contact info, maybe your photograph, perhaps a calendar, any key links that students use almost daily?).  Then draw other pages that will be linked from your homepage (maybe a page for each period or each subject, or perhaps a page for major themes or projects). 
Once you have a general sketch of your site's structure, you're ready to start creating it.


STEP 3: CHOOSE A TEMPLATE
Google Sites is the best choice for most teachers to easily build a host a website that is tightly integrated into our rfschools.com system, so that's the platform I will  focus on here.
  • Go to sites.google.com (or get there via the apps launcher on the top right of Chrome)
  • Click "Browse sites" if you would like to see more examples from other teachers in the District. Take note of features you want to include in your site. Look at how they are organized and how easy, or difficult, it is to find your way around.
  • Go back to sites.google.com and click "Create"
  • Now you can choose either the "Blank Template" or "Browse the Gallery for More"
    • I recommend starting with the Blank Template. It is going to give you total control over your website's structure and layout. It's pretty easy to use and customize, but may not look as slick as some of the templates. I will also work on templates for schools that want a consistent look and feel across every teacher's website, but this will take some time.
    • The Template Gallery has a "Schools and Education" category with some nice looking templates for classroom websites. You can change these as much as you want, so you may want to try one that you like and try changing some content. Some of these can be difficult to modify, so play around with it before you add a lot of content.


  • Click on "Sharing and Permissions" when you're ready for others to access your site. You can choose how public you make it. I set my classroom site as "Public on the web" so students could Google it and get there easily, but if you want to restrict access, you can select a more private option. This step was cut off at the end of the video above!
STEP 4: LEARN AND GO!
  • If you learn best by doing, then just go for it...Google Sites is pretty intuitive and you'll likely figure out how to create your site just by clicking around. If you need some guidance, see the resources below, or just Google it! 
  • If you like to learn how to use a new tool before using it, then try the following tutorials for getting started with Google Sites. Then give it a try, and let me know how it's going.
STEP 5: SHARE AND SUPPORT
  • If you would like some hands-on training while you build or improve your website, let me know in the form below. I'll schedule sessions based on interest in each community, or at the Teacher Training Center in Carbondale.
  • Please share your site with me, and with other teachers, so we can learn from each other. I'll update this post with some examples as they roll in.

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