Utilising Twitter with students, for lesson planning and for PD, Part 1
In one of our workshops, I discuss the use (and validity) of social media sites in and outside the classroom for both students and teachers. Unfortunately, at a recent conference I ran out of time to go into the detail Twitter deserves. Consequently, I’d like to devote the next posts to this little bird. In order to do so, there are a few suppositions that must be made. The first is that both teacher and students have Twitter accounts. Next, both teacher and students know Twitter’s basic functions (ie. following, tweeting, retweeting, hashtags). Finally, students are following teacher and vice versa. Most ideas will depend on all three being true.
A – Utilising Twitter with students
Activity 1 – Summarising
The 140-character limit can be a great thing for students, especially with regards to writing. Since the skill of summary depends on the ability to reduce text to 30% of its original length by highlighting main idea, Twitter’s status bar truly forces students to do it. Give them a few sentences or up to a short paragraph to summarise into a tweet. Alternatively, have one student summarise the first paragraph, another student summarise the second and so on. Having them tweet their sentences in order collates them into an easy-to-see chronology that can be projected onto a wall or board for correction instead of being retyped or rewritten by the teacher for distribution.
Activity 2 – Eliminating wordiness
Students have a hard time with writing too much, clouding their points in an array of dangling grammar and wishy-washy phrasology. Twitter’s character limit puts (by definition) a restriction on how long sentences can be. Take student-generated sentences from essays or previous activities to use. Give students an example of how to write it more concisely but retain meaning. Challenge them to rewrite others into a tweet. Use of tweets pushes students to write more concisely. Students will definitely find this challenging but also like a game. Teachers can retweet well-written sentences or reply to students with comments about their attempts (ie. You’ve lost meaning about ___. / Try a different word order. / etc).
Activity 3 – Create group stories
A standard classroom activity to practise grammar and writing, group stories can be fun exercises. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to make use of these stories as a class immediately after creation beyond reading aloud or transposing everything onto the board. Instead, put students into groups of four. Give them a topic on which to write or target language with which to use in their stories. Student As from each group write the first sentence of their story in a tweet using a unique hashtag (eg. #1GSW, #2GSW, etc ~ 1G=Group 1, SW = Story writing). Next, Student Bs look for the hashtagged sentence, compose and tweet the next sentence. Once all four have done so for their hashtag, mix the groups up, reassign hashtags and have students continue stories begun by other groups. Once finished, all stories can be seen easily by searching for one hashtag and then another. Done on cell phones, iPads or through a projector, group stories through tweets simplifies and expedites the use of student writing.