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Welcome to the Teacher Challenge!

This post is part of the beginners series for 30 Days to Kick Start Your Blogging.  You don’t have to have ever published a “post” before, or maybe you’ve started to blog once or twice but haven’t quite yet stuck with it.

Wherever you’re at — we’ll step you through the tasks designed to increase your skills while providing mentors who’ll support your learning.  Don’t stress, have fun and remember to ask for help, by leaving a comment, any time you need assistance!

This series is focused on helping educators set up their own personal / professional educator blogs.  Check out Blogging with Students if you want to work through our series designed to help you set up student and class blogs!

The aim of this activity is to show you how widgets are used on class blog and to introduce you to the commonly used class blog widgets.

Click on a link below to go to the section you want to work on:

  1. What are widgets?
  2. How widgets are used
  3. Examples of widgets
  4. How to add a widget
  5. How to remove a widget
  6. Overview of Available widgets
  7. Must have widgets
  8. Introduction to tags and categories
    1. Setting up categories
    2. Setting up tags
  9. Adding widgets using embed code in text widgets
  10. Commonly used visitor tracking widgets
  11. Using link widgets
  12. Commonly asked questions about widgets
    1. I’m having trouble removing a widget
  13. What now?

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What are widgets?

The term widget refers to any tool or content that you add, arrange or remove from the sidebar(s) of your blog — these are the blocks that make up your sidebar.


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How widgets are used

Widgets are used for a wide range of purposes including:

  • Help students, parents and visitors find information on the blog e.g. Search widget, pages widget, category widget, tag widget (learn more about categories and tags here)
  • Track visitors to the blog.  Visitor tracking widgets are used to highlight a blog’s global audience.  This can be incredibly motivating for students and provides a built in geography lesson.  e.g. ClustrMaps, Flag Counter,  Feedjit Live Traffic Feed
  • Student engagement e.g. Quiz widgets, Pet widgets
  • Links to helpful resources, student blogs and other class blogs e.g. Links widget
  • Events Calendar for important dates e.g. Google Calendar
  • Book lists e.g. Shelfari bookshelf
  • Email notification of new posts e.g. email subscription widget
  • Displaying comments or posts recently posted e.g recent comments widget, recent posts widget

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Examples of widgets

Check out these personal educator blogs to see how widgets are used on their blogs:

  1. Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day
  2. The Edublogger
  3. Integrating Technology
  4. Kevin’s Meandering Mind
  5. Ozge Karaoglu’s Blog
  6. Teacher Reboot Camp

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How to add widgets

Adding a widget is as simple as follows:

1.  Go to Appearance > Widget.

2.  Click on the arrow on the desired Sidebar to open up the sidebar (so you can add the widgets).

3.  Drag the widget from the Available Widgets into the desired Sidebar.

You drag by click on the widget with your left mouse and moving the widget.

4.  Drop the widget when you see a dashed line appear – this indicates the widget is in place.


5.  The widget will automatically open — just configure, click Save and then Close.

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How to remove widgets

Removing a widget is as simple as:

1.  Go to Appearance > Widget.

2.  Click on the small arrow on the right hand side of the widget you want to remove.

3.  Click Delete.

This returns the widget to the Inactive Widget area.


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Overview of Available widgets

Here’s a summary of the main widgets you’ll find in your dashboard and what they are used for:

Archives Used to organise your previously published posts by month.  Handy for readers who want to browser for older content  To save space change the configuration to ‘Display as a dropdown’
Blog Avatar Used to display your blog avatar (uploaded via Settings > Blog Avatar).
Calendar Displays links to your posts by date on a calendar  Can’t be used as an Events calendar.
ClustrMaps A simple widget for quickly adding a ClustrMaps to your blog sidebarAdded when the Widget plugin is activated in Plugins.
Custom Menu Allows you to display pages, categories, and custom links with a single widget.  To use you first need to set up your custom menu in Appearance > Menu.
Email Subscriptions A simple widget for adding email subscription to your blog.Used to notify readers of your latest posts by email.
Links Used to display a list of links in your sidebar.  Commonly used to share your favourite blogs or websites with your readers.
Meta Simple widget for easy log in and log out of your blog, to access your dashboard and to locate your RSS feed.
Pages Displays a list of your pages in the sidebar.  Commonly used for themes that don’t have page links in the top navigation.
Recent Comments Displays the most recent comments left on your blog by readers.
Recent Posts Displays the most recent posts you have published.  Makes it easier for readers to see what’s new on your blog.
Search Adds a search box to your sidebar. Makes it easier for readers to search the contents of your blog.
 Tag cloud Adds a search box to your sidebar.  Makes it easier for readers to search the contents of your blog.
 Text Allows you to add text or embed code to your sidebar.  It’s the most useful widget because you can use it to add content from other sources to your sidebar using their embed code.

Some widgets are also added to your widget area when you activate plugins.

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‘Must Have’ Widgets for blog sidebars

Sidebar clutter is a good way of convincing first time visitors NOT to subscribe to your blog.

Trouble is sidebar clutter creeps up on all of us.

The key is to focus on ‘What are the most important things you are trying to achieve when some one visits your blog?”

The main aims on your personal blog should include:

  1. Making it easy for readers to know what you write about and to find content
  2. Encouraging readers to subscribe to your blog by RSS and email

How do you do this?

Always put the most important widgets at the top of the blog.

Here’s my recommended ‘must have’ widgets for personal blogs listed in order from top of sidebar:

  1. Search widget
  2. Subscribe by RSS
  3. Subscribe by Email
  4. Categories widget
  5. Tag cloud widget

All other widgets you need to balance your personal desires with minimising sidebar clutter.

Please note:

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Introduction to Tags and Categories

Tags and categories on posts are used to help readers locate information in different ways.

Categories are like chapters of a book; they provide a general overview of the topics you blog about.

Whereas tags are more like the index at the back of the book and explode the topic into a million bits.

Here’s an example of a post with the categories and tags displayed at the bottom of the post.

Structure of a post

On a post you can add as many tags and categories as you need to make the post easier to locate.

The categories and tags you use are displayed in your blog sidebar using the categories widget and tag widget.

When your readers click on a categories or tag link in your sidebar it loads a page with all posts that use that tag or category.

Setting up your categories

Categories can have unique names and be wordy; you want them sufficiently descriptive so your reader understands the type of subject matter they will find when they click on the link.

As a general rule you tend to limit the total number of categories you use on a blog.

Please note on class and students blogs categories may be used more like tags; and some use only categories or tags rather than both.  The key is to think about the structure you want to use to help your readers easily find posts.  For example, you might use categories like Class News, Blogging activity, English, Science, Maths and then for tags you might use student first names (if the student writes the post),  Algebra,  fish anatomy.

Here’s my advice for planning your categories:

  1. Think of categories as if you were listing the chapters at the front of a book.
  2. Make them descriptive enough so your readers understand the subject matter you’re writing about.
  3. Ideally use 10 or less categories and make each category be about the same length (to look visually good in the sidebar)
  4. But don’t stress too much!  You can always edit them again later!

Here’s an example of the category and tag cloud widget from the sidebar on The Edublogger.

Category and tag widgets

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How to create categories

You normally add categories to posts before you publish them using the Categories module to the right of your post editor.

All you need to do is select the checkbox next to a category you want to use.


Creating a new category is as simple as:

1.  Click on the + Add New Category link.

2.  Type your new category in the Add New Category text box

3.  Click Add New Category

You remove a category from a post by unchecking the checkbox to the left of that category.

Adding your Category widget to your sidebar

Now to complete the process all you need to do is add your Category widget to your blog sidebar via Appearance > Widgets.

You notice on my blogs I changed the title of the Category widgets to titles that my readers will understand more:

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Setting up your tags

Tags are displayed on your blog as a tag cloud; clicking on a tag name will take your readers to all posts tagged with that term.

Tags are normally short, one or two words, and are generally keywords.

Here’s my advice for tags

  1. Choose terms readers would be likely to use if they searched your blog
  2. Make sure they are terms your readers can relate to
  3. Limit them to one or two words
  4. Remember your tag cloud displays your top 45 tags.
  5. The larger the size of the word in the tag cloud the more posts that have been tagged using that term

Adding tags to posts

ags are normally added before your publish your posts by typing your desired tags in the Add New Tag text box and then clicking Add.

You can add tags one at a time by clicking the Add button or hitting the Enter on your keyboard after typing each tag.

Or you can add multiple tags at a time by separating them with a comma as you type.  If you forget to add a comma between your separate tags the system considers the words to be one tag.

To remove a tag from a post just click the X to the left of that tag.

You can also choose from your most commonly used tags by:

1.  Clicking on Choose from the most used tags.

2.  Now click on the tags you want to assign to the post.

Choose more tags

Adding your tag widget to your sidebar

Now to complete the process all you need to do is add your Tag widget to your blog sidebar via Appearance > Widgets.

You notice on my blogs I changed the title of the Tag widgets to titles that my readers will understand more:

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Adding widgets using embed code in text widgets

You can add any other widgets you find on the Internet by pasting their embed code into a text widget in your sidebar.

This is how you add widgets from WidgetBoxVokiShelfari BookshelfFlag Counter,  Feedjit Live Traffic FeedGoogle Calendar and so on!

It’s as simple as:

1.  Grab the embed code for the widget you want to add.

2.  Go to Appearance > Widgets.

3.  Drag a text widget into your sidebar.

4.  Paste the embed code into the text widget.

5.  Click Save and Close.

6.  You should now see the widget in your sidebar.

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Commonly used visitor tracking widgets

Visitor tracking widgets are popular on class blogs because:

  • Knowing you’re writing for a global audience is incredibly motivating for students.
  • Realizing people from other countries are reading what they’ve written increases students’ interest, excitement and motives them to blog.
  • It also provides built-in geography lessons — most students constantly check for new visitors and enjoy finding out more about the countries where their visitors are from.

It’s quite common to see class blogs use more than one visitor tracking widget as each widget provides different information about visitors to the blog.

Educators often also like to use tracking widgets on their personal blogs.

Here’s a quick o overview the most commonly used visitor tracking widgets on class blogs:

ClustrMaps ClustrMaps is a thumbnail hit counter map widget that shows the geographical location of all visitors to your blog. Number of visitors from a location is indicated by the relative size of the dot.  Clicking the ClustrMaps thumbnail takes you to a large World map so you can examine your traffic sources more closely.Here’s detailed instructions on how to add a ClustrMaps using the ClustrMaps widget.
 Flag Counter Flag Counter widget shows the total number of visitors from each country next to the country’s flag. Every time someone from a new country visits your site, a new flag will be added to your counter.  Clicking on the flag counter takes you to your Flag counter page which provides more detailed charts and information about your visitors.
 Feedjit Feedjit Live Traffic Feed displays visitors to your blog in real time and includes: Which city and country your visitors are in; Which website they arrived from, if any; Which page they visited on your website; Which external link they clicked to leave your site, if anyYour traffic feed is updated as each visitor arrives on your site. This update occurs before it loads so each of your visitors can see their own location displayed.Clicking on the Feedjit Live Traffic counter takes you to your Live traffic page which provides more detailed information including the countries associated with web visitors’ IP addresses, the web browser, computer operating system, and referring website.
Feedjit Live Traffic Map Feedjit Live Traffic Map displays real-time visitor tracking by showing the geographic locations of the last 100 visitors to your blog. If you move your mouse over any point on the map the city and country for that visitor will be displayed.  Clicking on the Feedjit Live Traffic Map takes you to your Live Traffic Map page which provides more detailed information.

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Using link widgets

Links widgets are commonly used on a personal educator blogs to provide links to blogs they like to read and resources— they are designed to readers find websites easily.

The most common type of link widget you’ll hear mentioned is a blogroll.  Bloggers commonly use blogrolls to list their favourite blogs.  Blogrolls help readers locate other blogs worth reading — you are saying “these are some blogs I like – which are worth checking out!”

Here is how you create links to websites or blogs:

1.  Go to Links > Add New.

2.  Add the name of the website or blog to the Name Module.

3.  Add the URL to the Web Address module.

Best option is to copy/paste the URL from the address bar of your web browser – as you are less likely to make a mistake. 

4.  Select Blogroll in the Category Module or create a new Category then click Add Link.

You use different categories if you organize your links in different locations in your sidebars.  

Once you’ve created the links you add them to your sidebar by adding the Links widget (via Appearance > Widgets).

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Commonly asked we’re asked about widgets

Here’s answers to commonly asked questions we receive into Edublogs Support:

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1.  I’m trying to remove a widget and I can’t find it listed in my sidebar in Appearance > Widgets.  How do I remove it?

The most common reason why you may have trouble removing a widget, or see two of the same widget on a blog, is if  some of the widgets have been hard coded into the theme.  Any hard coded widgets can’t be removed.

NotePad Chaos is an example of a theme with hard coded widgets.  Pages, Categories, Links and a What is this Place are all coded into the theme.

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What now?

Now we’ve talked about widgets, tags and categories it’s time to show us what you’ve learnt.

Here’s what we would like you to do:

1. Check out your blogs sidebars and make the changes.

  • Are they cluttered?
  • Are there any widgets you don’t need and should remove?
  • Are there any widgets on my recommended ‘must have’ widget list you need to add?
  • Are there any other widgets from the student and class blog recommended list you want to add?

2.  Work on your categories and tags

  • If you don’t currently use any categories, go to Posts > Categories and set up the names of the new categories.
  • Now work through your existing posts and add assign the categories to your posts using the Quick Edit action link menu in Posts > Edit.  While you are doing this add your tags.
  • Add your Category widget and tag cloud widget to your blog side bar
  • Remember categories won’t display in your Category widget until they have been assigned to a post

Remember to come back to this post and leave a comment to ask us to check out how you went.

Refer to the extension activity if you want write a post about your experience.

Step 7:  Complete the extension activity (if you have time)

Write a post on what you’ve learnt from this activity.

Here’s some ideas of what you might like to write about:

  1. How was your blog sidebar?  Was it cluttered?  What was missing and why?  What needed to be removed and why?  What would you include on your list of ‘must have’ widgets?
  2. Has this post changed your thoughts about how tags and categories are used?  What changes did you make to your tags and categories.

Or go to Activity 8: Building readerships and blogrolls!


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  7. I worked on cleaning up my widgets. I added a category widget so that it would help readers navigate more easily.

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  11. I am late on this challenge but I decided to go with a tour of the widgets that I currently have on my sidebar.

    Check them out and tell me what you think. Too many, not enough? To use or not use…Widgets

    Also, I created the beginnings of a class blog on Edublogs and now I can’t comment on any of the challenges as Jana (my blogspot account) any longer. I am not ready to be mrsjw yet as I haven’t started blogging with my students. How do I logout and go back to being able to comment as my Blogspot self. Thanks!

  12. Hi,
    I feel like I’m a little late to the party because I was out of town last week. I had already played around with widgets when I first set-up my blog, but this activity really helped me see what I needed and what I could cut. I added a rss feed and search widget; I was having trouble adding an email subscription, but based on the comments above I see with blogspot, feedburner is the way to go. I also moved my About Me to a separate page.

    I’ve been playing around with a widget/post hybrid to raise awareness of the MLK 25 challenge that my class is participating in. Any feedback would be appreciated! I’ve looked at this thing so much, I no longer feel objective.

  13. I finally got the hang of categories and tags. I decided to include a category cloud since I am so visual, and was working on http://teachingknowledge.wordpress.com/ to get it organized. As I was working my avatar got shifted into the Blogroll. Since the blogroll will grow once classes start on Feb 14, can someone tell me how to separate them again?
    I can do this…..Ellen

    • Hi Ellen, definitely weird that your avatar is displaying inside your blog roll. Does changing the location of the avatar in your sidebar help?

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  15. Just looked at Activity 8…How to set up a blog roll. I think I’m going to like this one. Sorry for the above enquiry.

  16. I also added a Clustermap and was very excited when the first little red dots started coming in. That is real motivation.

  17. I really enjoyed this activity. I had seen “things” (now known as widgets)on other blogs and wondered how they had done that. Now I know…at least some anyway.
    I notice some people have removed the calendar saying they don’t like it. I do like it as it is an indication to me how many days it is since I added a post. If I want my readers to keep coming back I must have something new (and interesting) in my content.
    I had trouble thinking of categories so have just left it at tags for the moment.
    I have added a blog roll but don’t know how to put in the links. Help on this one would be appreciated.
    Otherwise I’m pretty happy.

  18. Hi there,

    I really enjoyed this challenge. I feel I have a much better understanding of widgets and sidebars. I think Edublogs offer a lot more widgets and options than WordPress. Is there an easy way to transfer the original blog over to Edublog? Also here is a link to my post. It’s definitely helping me to maintain my blog.


    Many thanks


    • Hi Jodi, you can normally export from any standard blogging platform to another. Since they are both powered by WordPress you need to go to Tools > Export inside your blog and inside an Edublogs blog you go to Tools > Import.

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  20. This challenge had a lot of reading to do, and so I read it all before I began which seems to work well for me. All of the tasks worked out including setting up the RSS and email subscription with FeedBurner. Am I allowed to say that I feel pretty pleased with myself? 🙂 I haven’t worked very much on cosmetics, I seem to need so much time just to figure out what to do. Must say, though, that I did some problem-solving (again all by myself!!) when I discovered I had duplicate widgets on my sidebar (for email).

    • Hi Louise, you should definitely be feeling very proud. We packed a lot of information and tasks into each Activity. So there was a lot to get through! #blametheronnie 🙂

  21. I really loved this week’s assignments! I feel like I have a much better handle on the appearance of my blog now, and I’ve added some new things that I hope will prove useful to my readers.

    I may eliminate the tag cloud since it seems to take up so much space; trying to avoid clutter. But maybe the problem lies with some of my tags.

    If anyone wants to drop by, you can find me at http://buchlady.wordpress.com

    • Hi Kathy, glad you loved the assignments this week. The problem does lie with the tags you have used. How I would do it is only use one word for your tag. For those that you want to use several words then I would look at creating descriptive categories to replace them.

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  23. Hi Sue,
    I really loved the idea of “Categories” and was disappointed to see that the Blogger platform does not use it. I read some forums asking them to change this and so far they have not. Do you think it is time to swith?
    Your other ‘must haves’ are great – I rearranged where the subscribe button was placed (near the end), added a search bar, and am working on a tag cloud (I realize I need to be more generous with my tag use). One thing I added at the end (not sure if it will make a difference or if anyone will see it) is a widget that allows the post to be ‘read’ to the individual. I am an Assistive Technology graduate and think allowing different points of access is a must too. If you know of any other ‘reader’ widgets I’d be glad to learn about them.
    Thanks Sue for a great post!

    • Hi Nancy, it is really up to you. Professional bloggers use WordPress powered blogs because of the increased functionality you have.

      Haven’t seen too many reader type widgets 🙁

  24. This was a really great activity. I only had a calendar and some links in my sidebar so I don’t think it was too cluttered before I started this activity. Now with my new additions I still don’t think it is too cluttered. I found naming my categories the toughest part of the challenge. I only have two listed at the moment but hopefully that will grow 🙂

    I followed Sue’s instructions on how to set up a Feedburner RSS link. I’m not sure though if I’m getting all my traffic sent through to it because I have a WordPress blog. Does anyone know how to do this?

    Attached is a link to my blog page with the new widgets.


    • Hi Karla, definitely not getting all the feed redirected to Feedburner. Here is where your feed is located – http://dramateachersnetwork.wordpress.com/feed/

      If you went to the URL and it was redirecting it would load your Feedburner feed.

      Doesn’t look like WordPress.com has an option to redirect all your feed.

      What this means is those that use your link in the sidebar will be contacted in your Feedburner stats while those that use the blog URL to subscribe won’t.

      However, looks like your feeds stats show up inside your blog dashboard via the Site Stats.

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  27. I have felt that my page was too cluttered, but I am finding it hard to decide what to get rid of. I did toss my calendar and add a search widget, and changed my standard feed to a Feedburner RSS feed – thank you so much for these instructions. Now, I need to revamp my categories and tags.

    Thanks for a post and activity that not only makes me think critically about my blog, but provides the assistance to make it better.


  28. I tried to get some of those “sharing” icons floating on the left side. I personally hate having too much on a sidebar, so I thought it would help. I don’t have enough posts to have a cool looking tag cloud, so I will add that once I up the posts =)

    I would love some feedback.


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  30. I could not find any information on categories in Blogger. I figured out (I think) that labels are the same thing as a tag. I also couldn’t figure out how to finish the subscribe by email for Blogger. If anyone can help me with this, I would appreciate it. I have added a few things and removed a few things. Please let me know if I should add/delete anything more. Thanks. My blog is: http://learningtech20.blogspot.com/

    • you can use feedburner to help with subscriptions. It has options to subscribe via RSS and email. Takes a little setting up but it also tracks how many subscribers you have =)

  31. While I never gave much attention to my widgets and sidebars this challange has challanged me to take a second look. I will over the next week make some changes.

  32. Hi Sue,
    Another clear and informative post packed with useful tips. I will take your advice and add a search bar and RSS feed to the top of my widgets. I think this is the perfect time to divorce my professional Technoscience blog from the class blog that I use with my junior science students. Is there an easy way to copy links from one blog to another?

    • Hi Britt, glad my post helped. Sadly with links you need to do it manually. The fastest way is to run it in two separate web browser and copy/paste between.

  33. I just removed the calendar widget from my sidebar and replaced it with a tag cloud. I don’t think it is necessary to have a calendar on my blog and heeding your advice, I didn’t want to clutter the sidebar, and decided the tag cloud was far more important than the calendar. Do you agree?

  34. Thank you again, Sue. Your advice really helped me take a critical look at my blog.

    I rearranged my sidebar and fixed up my tags after reading this post. I now have a tag cloud – way overdue.

    I’d love some feedback on how my blog looks now. The last thing I want to do is repel readers so feel free to be brutally honest: http://century21teacher.blogspot.com/

    • I don’t think it looks too cluttered. It has some personality.

      One thing I personally like is when the subscribe buttons are near the top.

      • Thanks for your feedback Trevor. Your blog is also very cool, not cluttered, easy on the eye.

        Good use of pages. My, you’ve had an interesting career!

        Best of luck with the remainder of the challenge!

        • Hi Amy, I think it is looking really good. The theme is working well and you have a good layout of tabs for navigation at the top.

          Your blog title and tagline instantly tell readers what you’re about.

          I’d probably remove the About me at the top that links to your Profile and try replacing it with a text widget that links to your About page because that is the better place for them to read about who you are.

          Like Trevor I would like to see Subscribe higher but I know that moving the polls can be a challenge.

          • Thanks Sue! I changed it to a picture widget (same picture) with a link embedded in the pic to my “About Me” page.

            Thanks again for your help and advice. My blog has improved out of sight since I started this challenge.

    • Wow, Amy. I really like your blog layout – visually it is very appealing to me. You provide a lot of information in your sidebar, but the two-column layout allows your posts to be clearly identifiable while at the same time allowing enough room to easily read the sidebar. I like your color choices, too.

      All that and great content – I think you’ve established a great blog!

      • Thanks Mrs Angle! Great feedback. I’m glad you like my colour choices, I really deliberated over my theme. Autumn colours remind me of happy memories so my blog is one of my happy places.

    • Love the look of your blog and the way you write!

      • Thanks Nancy! I love your theme with the books. Your latest post about Punxatawney Phil (spelling?) is also very interesting – what a fascinating cultural event!

  35. It is hard to tell if things are too cluttered. I added all of the must haves you mentioned and there is more there than before but maybe not so cluttered. I will see how things go along. I like the tag cloud and found all of your instructions really easy to follow. Thanks!

    Question: I received notification of a comment but it seemed to be spam. I deleted it but should I have used the spam it option? What is that for?