Twitter for Teachers: Using Social Media in Education

Add the little blue bird to your toolbox

By Scott Sterling

In education, Twitter has become as indispensable a tool as we have. Its implications are wide-ranging. It can help:

  • Teachers bring the outside world into the classroom
  • Students practice important writing skills
  • Educators from all over the world connect with each other

That’s a lot of tasks for only 140 characters. Here are some of the best ways to use the little blue bird. 

Backchannel chats

During a lecture or video, students frequently either space out or take halfhearted notes. Back channeling gives them something with which to stay engaged during passive instruction. Using a hashtag, students converse with each other (on topic, of course). In this way, they don’t have to raise their hands and even the shyer kids will participate. For added gravitas, project the conversation onto the wall or your SMART board.

Reach out to subject matter experts

Experts in your discipline are probably too busy to come and speak to your class, but you can reach out via Twitter. Make a classroom account and then have students ask them a couple of questions via direct message. You’ll be surprised at who takes the time to interact on Twitter. 

Connect with other classes

Classrooms using Twitter is not a new idea. There are thousands of classrooms just like yours waiting to interact with your kids. Simply do a search for a common topic, like an upcoming project, and see who’s tweeting about it. Then, reach out via direct message. This could be the first step in regular Skype meetings with a class across the country.

Communal writing

This was an activity I would do in person, but it’s so much better via Twitter because it can happen anytime, anywhere. One student starts a story with a single line under a common hashtag; then another student has to pick it up. When everyone has had a turn, you should have a coherent piece of writing. If you don’t, sometimes that’s more educational anyway. 

Tweet something complex

According to the Common Core, students need to be able to write both huge reports and extremely condensed summaries. With only 140 characters to work with, Twitter is the ultimate exercise in shrinking ideas down. Give students something huge, like the Civil War, and ask them to explain it via a tweet. 

After school and during break

Summer break is right around the corner. You might not want to be that teacher who gives homework during break, but tweeting is not exactly hard work. Simply have students follow you on Twitter and tweet out a conversation topic once a week or so. Monitor who participates and you’re done.

#edchats

A while ago, some teachers got together and decided to have an informal chat over Twitter at an appointed time every week. #edchat was born. It has since grown to perhaps hundreds of teachers participating every week. It usually takes place on Tuesday nights, but it can move around. The topic is tweeted out ahead of time. Think of it as a giant teachers’ lounge water cooler, but with less gossip.


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