Twitter: Essential Literary Questions

The New York Times ran a story this past May about Twitter as a classroom backchannel.  The NYT Learning Network even had had those educators featured respond to community comments and discuss their stance on cell phones, technology and backchanneling in the classroom.

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The idea reminded me that often I spend all of my time before class determining “essential” questions and then trying to guide students through classroom discussions.  Regardless of whether or not students have engaged in the text or done the reading, these questions are still “my” questions.

Using Twitter or even Today’s Meet, similarly styled around 140 characters, as a means towards having everyone participate is an important first step.  However, this is still a world in which we “make” the questions.

So here’s the alternative.  After you’ve familiarized students with Twitter and even used it as a means of backchanneling during discussions or Socratic seminars give students a list of question types you want them to formulate.  As they read, make them responsible for creating questions via twitter.

For each type of question you ask them to create they should employ a specific hashtag that denotes the type of question.  You will need to make it unique enough that when searched only your classroom questions will appear.  Try using your last name, the class period, the class title or any combination.

Example: #Smith3basic or #AP3style

Consider using this exercise as a supplement for challenging novel studies after you’ve familiarized them with your expectations and question expectations through other discussions and texts.

The texts listed below are just some you might consider using with this Twitter essential questioning exercise.

            • All the King’s Men
            • Jane Eyre
            • Frankenstein
            • Great Expectations
            • One Hundred Years of Solitude


            • Catch 22
            • The Scarlet Letter
            • Invisible Man
            • Light in August
            • Middlemarch




As for types of student created questions you may follow Bloom’s Taxonomy or create your own categories of focus.


Example Categories

1.  Basic Understanding 
These questions focus on vocabulary, organization, content, character relationships and plot.  Use these questions to ask about what confuses you and keeps you from understanding the text’s meaning.

Example: What does Huckleberry Finn mean when he says “lighting out?”

2.   Style Questions
These questions should ask what motivates the author to write in this form.  Consider what patterns they depend on (repetition, heavy descriptive passages, dialogue, satire, etc.)

Example: Why does Mark Twain have Huck Finn deliver humor via inner monologues? Is it important that we get it more than Huck gets it?

3.  Synthesis/Evaluation Questions
These questions should discuss the larger importance, value, or intention of the piece as a whole.  They should also consider the pieces role within a modern world. 

Example: Since Huck Finn doesn’t find value in education and even ridicules it, can we argue that Twain does not support education?

Example: How would Transcendentalists respond to Twain’s satirical view of society?  What current events today would Twain find himself “rallying against?”

When students are done use the “basic” questions as a means to overviewing/reviewing the reading. Then divide students into small groups or conduct a Socratic seminar using student created questions. You can always have them tweet responses to these questions as well if you want to create a “layered” Twitter experience.

One comment

  1. [...] of summarizing ask that students construct a list of essential questions as they read.  These questions should identify the big picture arguments of the author and pose [...]

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