Archive for November 30, 2011

Twitter: Research Tool

Teaching students how and where to research can be painful. They struggle to evaluate credibility and they chafe at the amount of time real research demands.  In reality, students should be engaged in some form of research all year. The thought of this makes most teachers shudder, myself included.  Constant research, large or small, is a classroom necessity and not just because the Common Core Standards demand it.

Research makes students better thinkers and better writers.  So the question arises: How can students be engaged in constant research without struggle or burden for all involved?

The answer? Twitter.

Now I know how this potentially sounds. Lindsay Lohan updates and trending hashtags about #basketballslang don’t really inspire teachable moments.   But what can easily get lost in celebrity updates is Twitter as a significant resource for current events.  Every major publication tweets—multiple times a day.  What results is a brief overview of a topic and a link to a story.  It is in essence a ready made “feed” for student research.


1,  Determine how students will access tweets that allow for research/reading on current issues and topics.

  • You may decide to use your own Twitter account for the classroom and retweet a series of “stories” from which students can choose. This offers you more control over what they read.
  • Or you may ask that they follow a series of reputable publications.  From the tweets of those “teacher sanctioned” publications they may do their own current events research.

Some publications for classroom use:

  1. Have students explore tweets and articles.  You may choose to do this inside or outside of class.  Consider asking students to read and evaluate several articles if time allows.
  1. Have students favorite and retweet topics of interest.  For each favorite/retweet, ask students to post a follow up tweet.  The “follow up” should be an argument for the value of the professional article.

4.  Consider this as a constant exercise much like journaling.  You can use it          to produce a 60-second speech or a research driven project/paper.

Tomorrow: Twitter as Essential Questioning Tool 

Twitter: Memoirs & Personal Narratives

Every Fall students accost me in the classroom, on the way to lunch and even exiting the bathroom.  They clutch college application essays that they beg me to read.  I’m usually not the first teacher they approach.  They want as many opinions as possible.  They’re terrified their writing is not any good.  Often, it is not.

It worries me that for some the personal statement is the first meaningful personal writing they’ve been asked to do.  It worries me, as well, that they struggle to understand that the essays we read by Amy Tan, David Sedaris, Joan Didion, George Orwell, Dave Barry, and Garrison Kellior are supposed to be professional “models” for them as to mimic.

In light of the Common Core Standards for Writing, everyone from 6-12 is expected to have varying exposure, practice and expectation when it comes to constructing personal narratives.  Some colleges even ask that students construct an application essay that begins in the middle of their imagined autobiography. Twitter is the perfect avenue for narrative writing and opening line practice because it is only 140 characters.  Often the more “space” the more unwieldy.  Consider working on these skills with any personal essays, narrative non-fiction, or memoir units you already employ.  Here is a short list of texts with which this type of an assignment might be paired.

“Why I Write,” Joan Didion

“Why I Write,” George Orwell

“Mother Tongue,” Amy Tan

Lost in the Kitchen,” Dave Barry

Into Thin Air, John Kraukauer

Hope in the Unseen, Ron Suskind

The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls

Night, Elie Wiesel

Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl

Regardless of the type of memoir or narrative have students complete a style analysis for these authors and/or themselves. Then, task them with writing the opening line(s) to their own story—in 140 characters.  Everything must be grammatically perfect.  No abbreviations or missing punctuation marks.

Tweet Exercise-Revise, Rewrite, Reconsider 

Ask that students take their original tweet and follow the steps below.

Tweet #1: Have students use the 140 characters however they desire.

Tweet #2: Take the content of tweet #1 and revise it creating two engaging sentences.   You must use a punctuation mark (-, :, ; ) of interest.

Introduce students to 6 Word Memoirs.  While you’ll have to pick and choose the “memoirs” you think best, consider having them listen to NPR’s story about the purpose behind the project. Use this as the final step before Tweet #3. 

Tweet #3: Take the content of the tweet #2 and make it three sentences.  The first of those sentences must follow the format of Smith Magazine’s 6 Word Memoir.  The other two must further the engagement you’ve created with your audience as a result of sentence #1.


Tomorrow: Twitter as Research Tool

Twitter: Overview

I’ve spent the last two days trying to find a clever way to overview Twitter.   In an effort to establish myself as a reputable resource I’ve read Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher’s tweets, rewatched Josh Groban singing Kanye West’s tweets and discovered “sweets” by We Sing Your Tweets.  It’s easy to plummet down the rabbit hole.  So many people, posts, links, chatter, retweets, favorites, lists, twitpics.  You can see how some could view Twitter as a vast sea of self-publishing for the self-important.

And yet, Twitter is more than celebrity feuds, divorces and lunches. Tweets can be invaluable resources for teaching #occupywallstreet, satire, Steve Jobs, writing with voice, etc. Tweets can teach concision, engage quiet students in classroom discussion, be a forum for creating thesis statements.

This past summer Scott McLeod (one of the minds behind Shift Happens) posted on Big Think an “open letter” to educators about the value of Twitter.   Used correctly it’s a stream of resources that showcase effective classroom practices and a learning community for teachers and students.  But navigating Twitter is daunting and difficult for the best of us. That’s why it’s good to have help.  Below I’ve listed some of the most useful links for getting Twitter up and running in your classroom.

Digitally Speaking Twitter Resources & Video Tutorials

Twitter Handle: @plugusin

This is a series of video tutorials and guides that help with navigating the setup of a twitter account.  They are incredibly helpful if you are new to Twitter.

The Daring Librarian’s Wikipage on Educational Twittering

Twitter Handle: @gwynethjones

A significant “library” of links to posts and information about everything from Twitter accounts to hashtags. 

Cybrary Man’s Twitter Resources

Twitter Handle: @cybraryman1

A page chock full of links that all discuss how to implement Twitter in the classroom.  This is an invaluable page if you understand Twitter and you’re looking for ideas and “extras.” 

You may, as you read through, decide that you’d like your students to create their own “private” and locked Twitter account only for educational use. This means they follow only you.  You might also ask their names as twitter handles (or some appropriate version of their name/initials) so you can easily determine who is commenting.

Tomorrow: Twitter as personal narrative.

Weekend Culture: Room for Debate

Yesterday’s post focused on The New York Times’ Room for Debate.  This past Wednesday, the topic of focus included 15 experts, a large number for any NYT debate.  The difference?  They were all high school seniors. Titled How the Future looks from High School, the Times asked these students how they saw their future.

Since this is a topic that directly relates to our students, consider using this “debate” in the same manner as yesterday but with some tweaks.  This is their opportunity to work on personal narratives and opening lines/hooks.

  • Have them read, annotate and create a list of observations from the Times post.
  • Discuss in small groups and/or discuss as a class.
  • Have students take the role of an expert and construct their own short response to the topic.
    • Ask them to come up with an engaging first line.  This is never as easy as it seems.  Try some of the following first:
      • List your top three favorite food memories.
      • Describe a reoccurring dream.
      • What is you most vivid memory from kindergarten?
      • Describe a guilty (and appropriate) pleasure.

The hardest thing will be for them to take this “snippets” and understand that everything/anything they see as important is largely reflective of their personalities and their future plans.

Once responses have been created, add one final step.  Have students “respond” to the “responses.”  You’ll notice that on the actual Room for Debate page it asks, “We hope readers, from high school seniors to senior citizens, will respond in comments: What are the pressures on students at your high school? What are 18-year-olds in your hometown expecting from their careers?”  If you choose to, have students respond to one of the teens who posted their future plan.

If this is too impractical, consider having them post their original response for your class in Schoology or Edmodo.  See our Favorites page for help with these applications.

  • Create a thread for this discussion and have students post their responses.
  • Require students to read and comment on two of the original posts.
  • Ask that they respond, not with simple “thumbs up” language.  Instead they should consider their response as a reflection that demonstrates understanding and thoughtful evaluation without critique.

Weekend Culture: Room for Debate

The New York Times
Room for Debate is a wonderful resource that advances critical thinking and writing.  Each week they cover several topics and invite “experts” to discuss their opinions in regards to a specific area of focus.  You can follow their RSS feed or their tweets.  Topics range from technology to education to government.

Instead of simply pitting experts against each other these pieces help show complexity of argument.  These topics are current and also of high interest to students and teachers.

Some favorites from the recent past include:

For each organizing question multiple voices in the form of doctors, lawyers, journalists, authors, students, parents, etc. weigh in forming a textual dialogue.  These “debaters” do not shout or wildly point fingers.  The thoughtfully engage in the topic based on their own experience and observations.

As a result they offer a strong foundation for helping students form their own perspectives.  It would be unreasonable and too time consuming to weigh an entire class of students down with only one topic.  Instead consider the following:

  • Create a list of past topics from which they can choose and then organize students into small groups based on topic/question.
  • Have them read, annotate, and create a list of observations.
  • Discuss in small groups and/or discuss as a class.
  • Have students take the role of an expert and construct their own short response to the topic.
    • Ask them to defend, challenge or qualify the topic.
    • Ask them to concede other points of view before beginning with their own.
    • Ask that they use their own reading, observation, experience etc. to inform their writing.

This type of exercise requires them to practice argumentation, concession, critical thinking, marshalling of evidence and organization.  It also requires them to read experts before “jumping” to conclusions that they cannot prove.

Tomorrow we’ll discuss how to use Room for Debate as a means by which students can respond to their peers.  Here’s a preview of the debate topic: How the Future Looks from High School

Week in Review: Student Podcasts

           Friday Dialogue from                

                                      Your Two Favorite Educators 

As Emily and Aubrey look back over the week they use their razor sharp wit to discuss podcasts. 

1.)  If you were able to record a podcast, what would be the content/topic?  

Aubrey: It would be a program about food and drink in literature.  Perfect world?  We would cook/create the actual dishes, drinks, and dinners while we discussed their role within the text.  You would be my sous chef.  See my creative podcast ideas below.

  • A Light in August: Field peas with molasses might look better than toothpaste but ultimately you won’t enjoy either.
  • The Great Gatsby: Mint juleps might be tasty but they won’t keep you from realizing your marriage is a sham.
  • All the King’s Men: Real politicians don’t drink orange pop.

Emily:  I am no one’s sous chef.  Final answer.

2. Similarly, do you have a catchy title?

Aubrey: No.  But I think it should be something like the following: Food Problems are Your Problems.  

Emily:  What about something like Feed Your Read?  You have to fit reading somewhere into the title.

3. What podcasts do you think teens are listening to?  What podcasts do you think they should be listening to?

Aubrey: Do they listen to podcasts?  Is this something I’ve missed?  I think they should be listening to This American Life and Radiolab.  Those podcasts are so smart, sad, humorous and thoughtfully produced.  I’m in awe of the intelligence and creativity.  I also think that students could easily checkout ITunes Podcast of the Day on Twitter.  There’s always something interesting there.

Emily:  I think that if they are listening to a podcast they are probably listening to something that is skill-related (like guitar playing) or is mindless, like a comedy show.  Adam Carolla is continually on the top ten list and, other than my brother, I can’t imagine who else listens to comedy podcasts

Recording Student Podcasts

The biggest concern I hear from colleagues about assigning students to create their own podcasts is that they don’t have the money to procure the materials.  While I do believe the best method to record a podcast is to use an actual MP3 recorder (described below), there are still many other alternatives that might be substantial options for you and your students given the financial constraints of your district.  Read more

Student-Created Podcast Project

I love the unpredictability of a class discussion. However, I don’t love the varying degrees of participation.  I have tried every gimmick in the book to ensure equal participation.  Yet, it never fails:  some students blend into the background and fail to make a comment in class because they are shy or are unable to overpower the more dominant voices in the discussion.  Having your students create and record their own podcast is a great way to solve all of these problems. Read more

Podcasts to Use in the Classroom

When I was younger my parents used to always listen to talk radio (especially 700 WLW, a Cincinnati radio station) during long car trips.  At the time, I thought it was lame that I could identify Bill Cunningham’s voice, now it informs why I love listening to podcasts during my daily 1.5-hour long commutes.  They are nostalgic to me.  They remind me of my youth, while informing my future.  Because I’m an English teacher and love grading student writing every night for two hours, I rarely have time to indulge in topics that interest me.  I’m able to listen to news programs, book talks, psychology of art, and discussion of trends Read more

Podcasts Overview

Whenever I have an evaluation scheduled my first idea is to construct a lesson that centers on a discussion:  it isn’t teacher-centered; it allows students to be leaders in the classroom; it encourages divergent thinking; it causes students to explore what truly interests them, providing them choice and freedom.  What can an evaluator say about those things?  It reaches almost every objective of Danielson’s domains for teacher efficacy.


Read more