Using Social Media to Engage Your Students

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I guided the children through the practice of “checking in”.

Today’s students are all about social media.  If it’s not Instagram, it’s Snapchat, Twitter, or Facebook.  If it weren’t for school rules regarding phone usage in school, we may never see the faces of our students but merely the tops of their heads as they check the plethora of status threads that they follow.   So how might we grab a piece of that attention?  Well, why not use faux social media to engage our students in learning, especially in literacy lessons?

Years ago, I used the premise of Facebook to facilitate active listening during story time for young readers.  Before a particular story was read, I instructed students to listen for details that would be an appropriate status update on a Facebook page.  With that, I proceeded to create a faux Facebook page on large butcher paper.  Along the top was written “Facebook”.  Below the title and centered were the words “What’s Your Status?”  To the left was a picture/drawing of the main character.  You could focus on any character, but I chose to focus on the main character.  Then, each time that the students heard an appropriate status update, they would write a complete sentence highlighting the character’s status on a sticky-note and post it on the board.  At various points, I would stop reading and discuss the updates with the class; being sure to ask for text evidence for the post.  For younger students, you might make a faux Facebook page on a large chart and then have the students raise their hands when they think they found a good idea of a post.  After a brief discussion, the post should be written on the chart. With students that are much younger, a teacher might write the comments instead of having the students write it, but that is simply up to the teacher.  Today, I probably would have the students write their posts on the board.  It could be used as a teaching tool for writing as well.

For my work, I had read Patricia Polacco’s Thunder Cake the day before we started this strategy.  On that first day, we had identified and talked simply about the basic elements of the story.  The following day was my second reading and I had planned to consider the main character more intently.  I felt that the faux Facebook would be an engaging way to accomplish this.

To identify the setting and to start the faux Facebook session, I guided the children through the practice of “checking in”.  For those of you that have Facebook on your smart phones, you may be familiar with the button that allows you to identify your current location.  This status shows as a “check in”.  So, since the setting was stated in the first sentence of the story we were able to make our first post.  I wrote, “Patricia checked in @ Babushka’s farm in Michigan”. Continuing on, at specific points in the story I would stop and ask the students, “What would Patricia post as her status?  What is she thinking?”  Below is a snapshot of the status statements that the children generated.

This strategy would also be beneficial to those lessons regarding sequencing and retelling. Seeing the status updates in descending vertical line, students will be able to read the sequence of the story.  Visual learners can see the sequence of the story represented in that descending vertical line posts. At a basic level, the Facebook page that was on my classroom wall was a tool that transformed the abstract concept ‘sequence’ to a visual and kinesthetic object.  With further practice, students should be able to write their own faux Facebook pages.  It can also be a creative activity in lieu of a book report.

Upon the completion of our class generated status updates, I reminded the students of the opportunity for Facebook friends to comment on the status posts that real Facebook members post online.  With that, I instructed the students to write a comment to follow Patricia’s posts.  This was a great avenue for writing a reading response.  Not one of my students declared, “I don’t know what to write.”  Their thoughts came easily.   I walked around the room and took notice of their “comments”.  The following shows some of the comments that I gleaned from the children’s writing.

I instructed the students to write a comment to follow Patricia’s posts.

It was a productive day in room 403.  My students engaged in thinking about the main character of Thunder Cake in a new and unique way.  Their writing was more authentic and connected.  I trust that this will not soon be forgotten.

But what about the other social media platforms?  I envision students creating images to demonstrate events happening in a chapter book and posting it as an Instagram page.  Other students could like and comment on the IG posts.  It might be a great way for inspiring readers to try a new book.  If they get to know the character, the setting, problems and such, they might want to pick up the book in order to know more.

As for Twitter, it might fun much like the Facebook strategy; expect that students would be required to write just the gist since Twitter limits characters.  That could definitely help students summarize and improve their ability to write succinctly.

To imitate Snap Chat, students would need access to a video camera or their smart phones in order to use the camera.  I also see that this one could depend a lot on technology.  Students could create a 10 second video in which they reenact a portion of the text.  This could then be downloaded to a program in which students could share their video with the class.  If a group of students were reading the same book they could be assigned to different sections of the book and directed to produce a ten second movie about that section.  These small Snap Chat-esque movies could be shown to the class where discussions could follow that dig deeper into the understanding of the text.

Whatever social media you’d like to imitate, be sure to allow you students to keep you abreast of what is current and popular.  Who knows what new media will pop up next?  Don’t be afraid to try new versions of it within your classroom.  By using the popular tools of the day, students are likely to engage in your lessons and remember it for a long time.

If you’d like a set of 30 Teaching strategies, with this one included, check out my Instructional Strategies Toolkit here.

A Instructional Strategies Toolkit for Teachers

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