This post assumes you already know the basics of how to use Twitter. You know what a hashtag is and what purpose an @mention serves. If you need a general overview of how Twitter works and why it’s useful for teachers, we recommend starting here. You can also consult the Graphite review of Twitter, as well as the many teacher Field Notes about Twitter on Graphite.
1. Use Twitter Lists to engage with people and topics of interest. From TeachHub’s 50 Ways to Use Twitter in the Classroom” ask students to “set up Twitter lists following feeds relevant to their career goals and to keep a daily journal on any trends that crop up along the way.” A step further would be to have them reach out and ask an expert a question.
2. Participate in KQED’s weekly Twitter activity, DoNow. Students are encouraged to read about an issue or watch a video on KQED’s website, and then respond using a specified hashtag. By learning about a current topic and responding to it publicly, students have an opportunity to practice civic engagement and learn valuable digital citizenship skills simultaneously.
3. Create a chat between multiple classrooms at school. Carrie Kamm reported on the TeachingChannel blog how teachers in Chicago Public Schools are using Twitter creatively. One teacher reported that her elementary school students used hashtags to carry on a multi-classroom and multi-grade level conversation. “We had a great [chat] going this year between our first and fourth graders: both have hermit crabs in their classrooms and they discussed the behaviors they observed!”
4. Host a live chat during a significant news event. “I have hosted live tweet discussions during significant events with my students,” writes high school teacher Kyle M. in our Twitter field notes. “The state of the union addresses and presidential debates were great opportunities for students to engage in a dialogue with each other about what they were hearing/watching on the TV.” Kyle goes on to explain that for students who are accustomed to using Twitter socially (about 26 percent of teens) that using it in an academic way requires an adjustment.
5. Have students write for their peers. Reaching out to other students beyond classroom walls is exactly what over 50 classrooms are doing in New Zealand through @KidsEdChatNz. Every Wednesday from 2 to 3 p.m., elementary school kids respond to questions using their classroom’s account and a specific hashtag. Sometimes using TweetDeck, they then watch as other students’ responses pop up in real time, responding and collaborating about interesting topics.
6. Use Twitter as an opportunity for critical thinking and analysis. This infographic from TeachThought includes some novel ideas for Twitter-based activities. For example, ask students to “identify five ways tone can be conveyed in a Tweet” or to “analyze a popular tweet for bias.” Ask them what they think sponsored Tweets are for? Have they ever been misled by a tweet? Why do rumors spread so fast on Twitter? Encouraging analysis of tweets turns students into educated users and spurs critical thinking about social issues along the way.
7. Use Twitter to write a Short Story Think 140 characters are too few for creative writing? Think again. “There is also a very specific activity I like to do with Twitter [called] ‘Twisters,’ which are short (very short) stories that are written in 140 characters or less,” writes Silas B. in a Field Note on Graphite. Silas shows students a few examples like @Arjunbasu, @Veryshortstory, and @Gumballfiction, and then encourages them to try their hands at writing their own. “It's a great way to get students to think about what they DON'T need.”
Twitter’s super-short format doesn’t mean it's short on learning potential. Using it as a tool to engage students in the ever-changing world lets them become part of the conversation, and is one small way to make their voices heard. Just make sure that your students are taught the relevant Digital Literacy and Citizenship skills if you are inviting them to use social media at school.