As I’ve mentioned before, many teacher websites do not live up to their potential. There are a number of reasons for that, I’m sure, and the list for what teacher sites should include is, of course, subjective. But for me, allowing students to contribute content to classroom websites is a must, giving them not just the responsibility for helping to make it what it is, but the opportunity to express themselves as a vital member of the classroom community.
How, as teachers, do we organize our classroom sites in a way that allows for student participation as content creators (and peer-reviewers and creative writers and…) while maintaining the necessary structure to ensure the other aspects of our site remain usable and valuable? That is, student contributions are just one element, right? There are also plenty of others. Think:
- Teacher messages to parents
- Homework reminders
- Upcoming events and due dates
- School news
- Extra credit opportunities
- Online assessments, both formative and summative
- Digital portfolios
- Important resources
The list goes on (and on, and on), so it’s necessary to come up with a structure that keeps it from devolving into chaos.
WordPress Categories for content organization
Think about WordPress categories as the overarching topics your website tends to cover. So, to use my site as an example, my categories include:
- Education (posts having to do with the field of education/teaching)
- Free Tutorials (how-to guides, mostly as it concerns using WordPress websites, the Thesis theme and, more recently, doing so in relation to a classroom website)
- Fictional (for creative writing)
- Jeb (for writing about misc things that interest me)
Could I have more? Sure, as many as I like. But the whole point is to make things easier for a visitor to your site to find the content he or she is looking for, and in general, at least as it concerns categories, less is better. Maybe you’re an educator and you don’t care about my creative writing or tech-tutorials, and all you really want to do is read my posts that have to do with education. If I’m using categories properly, I’ll make it super easy for you to do just that.
The same logic can be used for a teacher website. For example, if this were a classroom website, I might have categories such as:
- Daily assignments
- Period 1 (and Period 2, etc, one for each class period)
- Subjects (maybe you have some 7th grade Social Studies and some 8th grade, you could separate them into categories)
(These are just examples, of course, and there are a million other ways you could organize content.)
Creating categories is simple to do. Simply click on the POSTS menu in the left menu area of your WordPress website’s admin area, and you’ll see a submenu appear. Categories is one of the submenu items.
Click on ‘Categories’ and you’ll be taken to a page that lists the existing categories you’ve created, as well as some fields to create new categories.
To add a new category, simply type the name of the category in the top field, and then scroll down to the bottom and click on ADD NEW CATEGORY. That’s it. You don’t have to worry about any of the other fields. Soon as you’re done, you’ll see the new one appear in the list of existing categories to the right.
Now that you have categories created, you need to designate new posts to be of a certain category (NOTE: categories do not apply to PAGES, only POSTS. If you’re unsure the difference between the two, please comment or reach out and I’ll help to clarify). From the POSTS menu, either click on the title of an existing post, or add a new post. Either way, once you’re in the edit screen of a post, you’ll see the ‘Categories’ box along the right side of the screen.
Just check the box(s) next to the category(ies) you want. Quick side note, you can add a post to multiple categories. I’ll try to explain why you might do that below.
But how does this help? How does assigning a post (an announcement from the teacher, for example) a certain category help organize my site? Good question.
Using Categories to display different content in different places
Now that you’ve created some categories and put some posts into them, you can begin to designate certain content to appear in different places.
The easiest thing to do right out of the gates is to put a Categories widget in your sidebar. All this does is give visitors a list of the different categories your site has, and if they click on one of them, they are taken to an archive page that lists all the posts within that category. So, in the above example where you’re a teacher and the only content you want to read on my site is the content directly related to Education, you could click on that category from my site’s sidebar and you’d get to just that content.
To do this, click on the APPEARANCE menu on the left side of your WordPress admin area, and then click on WIDGETS from the submenu.
On this page, you’ll see the ‘Categories’ widget in the ‘Available Widgets’ area. You’ll want to click/hold/drag that widget to the Widget Area you want it to appear in. Depending on the theme you have, different widget areas may be available. Common ones are right or left sidebar widgets, which are just to the left or right of your main content area. Other ones may include Footer Widgets, widgets after Posts, etc. Again, totally depends on your theme.
Once you complete this, navigate to the front-end of your site and confirm that your category list appears where you want it. And test out clicking on the links to see how your category pages appear.
Category Menu Tab
Another approach to organizing content using post categories is by adding a tab to your website’s menu that corresponds to the category(ies) you want. To do this, go back to the APPEARANCE menu on the left side of your WordPress admin area, but choose MENUS from the submenu.
From this page, depending on your theme, you may see a few different things. But the main things to note are the current menu in use (almost every theme is going to have a default menu in use) and the options (pages, links, categories) you can add to the default menu.
From the Categories drop down, you click on VIEW ALL, and then you’ll have a list of all the categories currently set up. Check the boxes next to the one(s) you want to display as a separate tab in your menu, and then click ADD TO MENU (bottom right). You’ll see them appear under where it says MENU STRUCTURE to the right. Each item in that section is a tab in your main menu, and they can be dragged/dropped into any order. If you want one as a sub-menu, you can drop it slightly indented below the parent menu you want it to appear under.
Once your category(ies) is/are in the menu and it’s in the order you prefer, click SAVE MENU, and you’re good to go. Look at the front end of your site to confirm the menu has been updated, and click on the category(ies) tab(s) in question. You’ll be taken to the page that includes posts only in that category.
Incidentally, if you have posts that you want to appear in more than one category, that’s totally fine. For example, this post exists in the Free Tuts and the Education categories. Thus, it will appear on both category pages.
So, for a classroom website, perhaps you designate the front page to show only teacher announcements, and have different tabs for each classroom period, or each subject that you teach.
Using post categories is a simple but effective way to organize a teacher website, particularly if there’s a need/desire to separate student and teacher content. There are plenty of other strategies available - the one that comes to mind most notably is using a custom site design to ensure everything is right where you want it. That takes a bit more technical know-how, but it’s something to keep in mind if you find that your default/free theme isn’t giving you the flexibility you need.
Until then, however, use post categories effectively and you’ll be way ahead of the curve. Holler if I can help.