Saturday, July 19, 2014

10 Ways to Use Social Networks as a Teaching Tool

In my last post, I shared a story as an example of how I learn from my PLN. I use Twitter as a key part of my PLN--I'm there to interact with other educators, to share ideas and resources, and to learn. Twitter (and other social networks) seem like a perfect fit for learning, but perhaps best for informal, personalized, just-in-time learning. This has me thinking and wondering about how well social media fits as a teaching tool. Can social networks be used for formal, whole-group, structured learning as well?

Image via Garrett Heath [CC BY 2.0]

In the story I shared in my last post, I set out to find examples of how teachers are using Twitter in particular (or other social networks more broadly) as a teaching tool. I heard all sorts of stories from a variety of grade levels--really excellent ideas! Since I currently teach in higher education, the instructional examples I learned from college and university professors might seem to have the most immediate practical application. But since I am a teacher educator, I was very interested to read the stories of how teachers in K-12 schools are using Twitter as a tool for teaching. I learned some great approaches that I intend to pass along to the future teachers I serve.

So here they are...the ten best ideas I learned for using Twitter as a teaching tool:

1. Broadcasting Learning with a Class Twitter Account (via @lhighfill

My friend, Alice Keeler, connected me with Lisa Highfill, a 5th grade teacher who has set up a Twitter account for her class that they use to broadcast their learning. You can check out their class tweets for yourself--it's worth taking a few minutes to see the amazing things these 10- and 11-year-olds are thinking, reflecting, rehashing, and designing.

2. Twitter as a Kindergarten Research Center (via @mattBgomez)

Matt is a Kindergarten teacher who uses Twitter to connect his class to other classes around the world. All of these classes tweet about what they are learning, and Matt has his students take note of words or ideas that they are interested in and want to learn more about. Students vote on the topic they want to learn about next week, and Matt collects resources for the "Research Center" in his classroom about that topic. Simple, beautiful way to help 5- and 6-year-olds expand their world, and have a voice in their own learning. (Come to think of it, you could do this with any grade level!)

3. Content-centered TwitterChats for High School Students (via @justinchristen)

AP Government teacher Justin Christensen has his high school students participate in live Twitterchats that are driven by and centered around content that they are studying in class. He uses the hashtag #hsgovchat to track the conversation. It's not just Justin and his students in the conversation either--it's AP Government students and their teachers from across the country who participate. A Great way to promote collaboration and I think this bridges the gap between formal and informal learning pretty neatly.

4. Exit Slips and Questions about Readings (via @MrLenziGS)

Jeremy Lenzi is a high school English teacher who started using Twitter with his students as an easy way of collecting exit slips--short responses to questions at the end of a lesson to see if the students "get it." He reports that this worked very well, but he soon expanded his use of Twitter to encourage them to ask him questions about their English class readings outside of school hours. Getting kids to engage with material outside of school hours? That seems like a great way to use social media for learning.

5. Tweeting Scenes from Classic Literature (via @shfarnsworth)

My friend from #iaedchat, Shaelyn Farnsworth, is the epitome of a connected educator. She shared a bunch of great ideas for using Twitter with her students, and one I really loved was using tweeting scenes from classic literature. For example, when her class is reading Romeo and Juliet, she has them take on the role of a particular character, and tweet a summary of a scene from that character's point of view. I love this! I can see adapting this to different grade levels--perhaps you would do so as a class with younger students to learn the concept of point of view, by middle school, students could be doing this on their own?

6. Connecting with a Class in another Country (via @shfarnsworth)

Another neat idea from Shaelyn: find a class at a similar grade level to yours at a school in a different country, and use Twitter to connect your students. (Kind of like class pen-pals for the 21st Century?) Shaelyn connected with a teacher in Sweden, and they started a hashtag for their students to use for sharing ideas, asking questions, and interacting with each other. Eventually, their tweeting back and forth gave way to class Skype sessions. A powerful way to expand your students' global view!

7. Connecting with Families (via @mr_casal)

Chris Casal is a technology coordinator/technology teacher for a PreK-5 school, and has many great examples to share about using Twitter with kids too young to have their own accounts. My favorite is the one linked above--a Kindergarten teacher who admittedly "isn't a huge fan of technology." But she is on Twitter, and has found tremendous success in connecting with families of her Kindergarten students. One great anecdote: she live tweeted Grandparents Day at her school for the grandparents who couldn't be there. She included photos of the students and the goings-on,  and this isn't just a "special events" kind of approach--she does this regularly, and the parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends love to be able to see what these kids are learning. How is this part of formal learning? Well, teachers today often talk about finding ways for their students to share their learning with an authentic audience. Kindergarteners are too young to have their own Twitter accounts, but they can definitely be active participants in sharing what they are learning in this way!

8. School-wide Twitter Chats (shared by @MathGuru7)

This idea came from Anthony Jones, who tweeted me the link to the Edutopia article above. The article explains #kidsedchatnz, a New Zealand-based education chat for kids, not their teachers. This chat is actually an example of flipped teaching: the kids who participate are often expected to have read something or prepared something ahead of time. And while the chat is facilitated by teachers, the contributions come from their students. The article shares lots of great tips for starting your own school- or district-wide Twitterchat.

9. Speaking Up in Class, Silently (via @eolsonteacher)

Erin Olson, a high school English teacher, uses Twitter (or "Twitter-like technologies") to get even the traditionally "quiet" students involved in the discussions happening in her class. She finds that students who might rarely speak up in whole-class discussions are more likely to share their ideas and volunteer their thinking via social media. This kind of backchanneling could be helpful for any educator teaching a large face-to-face class who wants to be able to see what all his or her students are thinking during a discussion.

10. Helping Students Become Problem-Posers (shared by @mcleod)

Scott McLeod shared this post by Alan November with me, which describes a strategy for using Twitter to get students to not just answer problems, but to create problems. The example is from a high school geometry teacher, who tweeted a picture to her students, and asked them to generate a problem the picture might be able to illustrate. Amazing, authentic problems resulted!

Bonus: 60 Inspiring Examples of Twitter in the Classroom (shared by @mcleod)

I was so thankful that Scott McLeod took the time to reply to my tweet for ideas. He also shared this fantastic resource: a list of 60 interesting ideas! If the first ten ideas I've shared here didn't hook you...maybe one of these will...


All in all, this was a fascinating look at how educators are using social media tools to help their students develop as thinkers, connect their learning with real contexts, and generally expand their world by interacting with others through these networks. I am inspired to do more experimenting with Twitter in my own teaching practice!


  1. Glad you found the list useful, Dave. Keep up the great work!

    1. Thanks so much, Scott! It's always inspiring to see what other teachers are doing. So many great stories to share!

  2. Enjoy seeing how other educators are using twitter. Thanks for sharing!

    1. My pleasure to share! Thanks for taking the time to comment, Keith.

  3. I love these ideas! My mind is already spinning for my Middle School English classes. I never imagined how using twitter would be a great "non intimidating" way for shy students to share their thoughts. Thanks for sharing.