Twitter seems to be the underappreciated stepchild of the social-networking world. Why use a site that’s solely dedicated to the 140-character status update when you can get the same functionality out of Facebook, Myspace, blogger — and so much more? But its simplicity is exactly what makes Twitter a useful tool — especially for the classroom. There are many ways that educators can use Twitter — both inside and outside the classroom.
Here’s our guide to how to get the most out of Twitter:
Include as much information about yourself as you can. Choose a professional looking photo, fill in the bio with lots of useful keywords, and include a link to a professional Web page, if you have one. Be as specific as you can. For example, instead of just saying “My name is Maria, and I’m a teacher,” write “My name is Maria Smith, and I am a high-school history teacher at a public school in North Carolina. My research interests are ____.” Or, alternatively, if the account is for classroom use, not just connecting with colleagues, you can write something like, “This is the account for Maria Smith’s high-school history class. Here you will find class announcements, assignments, discussion threads, and more.”
1. The first thing you’ll need to do is find people to follow and to follow you. If your account is for your classroom, this should be very easy: Simply let your students know the class Twitter account and have them become followers individually. If your account is meant to connect with other educators, you may have to do a bit more research. You can search for other by keyword, or you can scan directories such as Twitter4Teachers and Who Should I Follow?
2. Next, you’ll have to learn to condense your thoughts into the 140-character limit per tweet — or face committing the taboo of spacing out a post over several tweets. There are some tools that can help you limit your characters and get more information into your tweets, including Tiny URL and for shortening Web addresses, and Twitter Keys, a dictionary of symbols useful for Twitter.
3. Become acquainted with the lingo. Retweets or RT@username happen when one Twitter user reposts a tweet from another Twitter user and gives that user the credit. If you reply to a tweet, your response will appear with @username. If you see these posts on a user’s tweet stream, you should know they they are reply tweets. DM stands for Direct Message, which you send privately to another user in lieu of posting to their tweet stream.
4. Understand following etiquette. You do not have to follow everyone who follows you. Only add users who you want to engage with or whose posts you want to read. This is especially useful for building relationships and having dialogue with other educators.
Tools/links for Twitter
Twitdom is a database that features hundreds of applications that can be used for Twitter.
Twitscoop lets you know what’s hot on Twitter now.
TweetScan lets you search for tweets around a topic, according to key word. This is a great tool for searching for chatter about a classroom topics or trend in education.
TweetStats lets you chart your Twitter statistics, including tweets per hour, tweets per month, a tweet timeline, and reply statistics.
TwtPoll allows you to create polls and surveys via Twitter.
TweetDeck combines multiple social-networking sites with Twitter to simultaneously view friends’ posts and to update to multiple sites.
Tips for using Twitter in the classroom
Now that you’re savvy at using Twitter, here are some ideas for how to incorporate it into the classroom:
1. Continue classroom discussions through a central classroom twitter account that students can respond to with their own accounts. This acts just like an online discussion forum, but in real time — almost like instant messaging or a chat room, except that there’s a record of the discussion after it’s over.
2. Assign students to investigate social or historical events by looking at tweets of the time, or at tweets of notable people.
3. Use Twitter to follow trends or issues by tracking key words. Assign projects or research based on the findings.
4. Base a grammar lesson around examples found on Twitter. They are real-time, everyday examples of how language is actually used, and the short form lends itself to a variety of mistakes in grammar and spelling.
5. Creative writing. Students can take turns writing one line each in a collaborative story, poem, song, or essay.
6. Post brief and interesting facts related to a particular subject or lesson. For example, post facts about “this day in history” or a quote a day, a notable person who has a birthday that day, a holiday that is celebrated that day, and more.
7. Post homework assignments and reminders. You can even post hints and tips to guide students in their study focus.
8. Assign students pen pals or sister school buddies to correspond with through Twitter to compare culture, schools, study habits, and more.
9. Host a classroom game, such as a clues for a scavenger hunt, riddles and trivia contests.
10. Post classroom announcements and create a space for students to communicate quickly with you and with each other.