Educators around the world use Facebook to engage with resources, webinars, and communities provided by English Language Programs. There is an excellent chance you are reading this very article because you saw the link posted in the Teacher’s Corner Facebook group or on the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Exchange’s Facebook page. These spaces continue to grow with interesting conversations and with new participants joining daily. At the same time, Facebook and its many functions and filters can overwhelm some educators who are looking to use social media to enhance their teaching. In this Teacher’s Corner, we suggest English language educators experiment with a second form of social media: Twitter. Global educators use this social media platform as a powerful tool for professional growth and learning opportunities. In this article, we’ll show you how to use Twitter, and we’ll share how you can build your professional network within an active social platform being used by educators worldwide.
How to Use Twitter as an English Language Educator
Tweet & Retweet
Publishing on Twitter is a simple four-step process. (1) Register for an account, then (2) verify your account by responding to the welcome email from Twitter, (3) log in to your Twitter account in either a browser window or the mobile app, and finally, (4) compose and post your ideas, thoughts, reflections, and insights. You might link to additional resources, videos, and websites. You might attach photos and images to illustrate your words or even a moving GIF. Depending upon your Internet access, you may even broadcast live video from Twitter.
Educators can post a broad array of different tweets, such as sharing pictures of students working on a project in class, suggesting an effective technique for learning language with a link to supporting materials, or reflecting on the week’s lessons and what went well and what needs improvement. In this way, Twitter becomes what some call a microblog, a record of your experiences and ideas broken up into very small chunks.
The strength of Twitter comes from its interactive features. After searching Twitter for topics or educators of interest to you, and finding tweets you find meaningful or valuable, you can click the two-arrow icon underneath to share that idea yourself, a process known as retweeting. Twitter invites its users to add their comments when retweeting, allowing your voice to be heard alongside the original idea. Commenting when retweeting is a great way to explain why you are sharing this idea and contribute your own insights.
You might also reply to a tweet using the word balloon icon, starting a dialogue between yourself and the original tweet poster. Because these conversations are happening in a public forum on Twitter, the opportunities for other educators to join in and create robust discussions are numerous.
For example, here, you see the “Retweet” button at the bottom of a Tweet:
When you click the “Retweet” button, there are two options: Retweet and Retweet with comment.
You can add a comment as a Retweet to add to the context or conversation:
Similarly, it is important to give credit to other users on Twitter when they inspire our thinking. To do so, simply tag the other person using @ and their user name, which is also called a handle. Thus, I might thank @elprograms and @jacquiegardy for providing hundreds of open education resources on the English Language Programs website.
Many educators create unique hashtags for their fellow teachers and staff, their schools and learning centers, and even students to use. Often educators use established hashtags such as #globaled and #TESOL to better ensure their words and ideas find their desired audience. Searching for hashtags can be one of the best ways to find communities of educators with similar goals. For example, #WhatIsSchool is a worldwide community that emerged from educators wanting to redefine education, and #DigCit is global community centered around teaching students to be safe and healthy digital citizens.
Length of Tweets
When Twitter first launched, it was well known for its 140-character limit, including spaces, numbers, and symbols. This meant that tweets had to be succinct and say a great deal with only a few words. Many users described Twitter as Facebook if Facebook was status messages and nothing else. With the character limit came a great deal of creativity as Twitter developed a lexicon of its own. The abbreviations and acronyms that developed made it possible to pack even more meaning into a single tweet. However, those abbreviations also alienated a lot of potential users who found it difficult to engage in conversations in so-called “TwitterSpeak” and the even more specialized “EduTwitterSpeak” educators on Twitter had come to use.
Recently, Twitter expanded its character limit to 280 characters. With the additional space, educators can provide important context and explanations, making Twitter far more accessible to casual users and much more valuable to educators.
Using Twitter to Enhance Teaching and Learning
With a basic understanding of how to use Twitter, educators can have an immediate impact on their students’ and their colleagues’ professional development. In the following section, we will explore three different strategies for educators who want to use Twitter for teaching.
Curate a Collection
When gathering links to online resources such as articles, lessons, exercises, and videos, consider sharing each link as a tweet accompanied by a common hashtag as well as a hashtag related to a larger Twitter learning community.
For example, you might be working with students who speak Farsi as their first language, and you discover a number of helpful YouTube videos that you want to share with your students and others. On Twitter, (1) create a hashtag, such as #FarsiELLvids, and compose a tweet with a link to the video with a brief description and reaction or comment. (2) Add a widely used hashtag to help reach a wider audience such as #TESOL or #globaled. Finally, (3) if you can find the creator(s) of the video on Twitter, tag them so you can give proper credit for the resource.
The end result would read something like “I cannot wait to show my students this video from @farsitranslators that explains how to translate common phrases from Farsi into American English #FarsiELLvids #TESOL [link].”
Then anyone can click your hashtag and see all of the other #FarsiELLvids you have shared. This could be helpful for students who want to move at their own pace through a course or for colleagues looking for resources. It can also be helpful for others who want to contribute to your efforts by tweeting links to other videos and tagging them with #FarsiELLVids.
Continue a Conversation
There’s no substitute for face-to-face discussion and the power of human connections. Still, there are only so many minutes in a class or to meet with fellow educators. Twitter makes an excellent forum for class and professional discussions. The character limits help keep any one voice from dominating the conversation, and the online format allows time for participants to process and edit their ideas before tweeting them.
When conducting a classroom discussion or a staff meeting, consider extending the conversation on Twitter afterward. Extending the conversation to Twitter is particularly valuable when that discussion revolves around best teaching practices, challenging questions, and study skills.
To extend or continue a discussion on Twitter, start by (1) creating a hashtag that unites everyone in the group. It might be a nickname for the class or the name of your learning community. Then (2) try using the Q1/A1 format to keep track of questions and answers to that question. When posing the first question use “Q1.” For example, you could tweet “Q1 What are some of the most effective ways to practice conjugating verbs? #LimaRoom200”. (3) When members of your group answer, they should respond using the term “A1.” For example: “A1 Write original song lyrics that use all three past tense singular and plural of the verb #LimaRoom200”. (4) As the discussion continues, new questions from the moderator should be numbered appropriately (Q2, Q3, Q4, etc.).
Of course, you do not have to use the formal Q1/A1 system. Twitter is a wonderful place for sharing ideas and thoughts and replying to those of others. Just use hashtags to help the participants find the discussion and return to it at a later date as new ideas come to mind.
Create a Comic Using Images or Drawings
Ask your students to find an image or draw a simple one-panel comic depicting a situation in which one character is asking another character for help:
(1) Ask them to doodle or sketch that image or use one of the many other ways you can make comics shown in this webinar from American English.
(2) Then, instruct your students to write a caption for the image.
A comic with a funny caption is a classic form of illustration, going all the way back to the first published newspapers, pamphlets, posters, books and magazines. Twitter allows us to amplify our students’ voices as well as our own and reach a global audience that otherwise might never hear us.
Twitter should not be seen as a substitute for what already works in your classroom or your learning community. Moreover, it isn’t as useful as Facebook for long-term discussions and for storing videos, photos, and other information for students. The Teacher’s Corner Facebook group, the American English for Educators Facebook page, and the American English at State Facebook page are still the best places to connect with other teachers of American English. Twitter is another tool that offers some unique opportunities for you to grow right alongside your students—280 characters at a time!
Please join us as we explore this topic in further depth on the Teacher’s Corner Facebook group from the American English for Educators page (https://www.facebook.com/AmericanEnglishforEducators/). Each Monday we post something new for you to explore or do. To join the group, go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/AETeachersCorner/ and request to join. You will be asked to respond to three questions. If you do not answer all three questions, you will not be admitted to the group. We hope to see you there!
Special thanks to our contributing author this month, Dan Ryder. Find him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/WickedDecent.