Twitter is one of the most popular social network these days. However, I personally never really got into it because it seemed too complicated at first and not many people I know used it.I thought I should give it a try, and even if I might not see a function for Twitter in my personal life, I believe there are many ways to use it in an ESL classroom.
First, in order to know more about Twitter before starting to find its uses in education, I watched a YouTube video in which the basics of this social network were explained. Then, I had a friend show me how she uses it. This way, I was more than ready to find and understand how to use Twitter in an ESL classroom, and personally, I recommend anybody who would like to use Twitter to start by doing this basic step. Twitter is nothing like Facebook or other social networks.
Basically, twitter is a social network in which people can have real-time communication. It was created in 2006 and, since then, is used by millions of people to either share or discover information. The website was named after the sound made by bird to represent their chirping. It illustrates the simple communication between them. On this website, it is possible to create “tweets” of a maximum of 140 characters to express opinions or ideas. Then, your followers can see your “tweets” and “retweet” answers or comments. To create or follow a topic, a system of hashtag is used in order to tag keywords or topic in a “tweet” to make it easy to identify or find. As a user, you can follow your friends or any subjects that interests you (celebrity, politic parties, business, etc.). To summarise, Twitter is a platform in which people can “tweet” their ideas or follow people such as their friends, celebrities, designers, marketers or businesses. It is an excellent information source and an easy way to share information quickly and in an effective way.
How to use Twitter in an ESL classroom
Now that we now more about the basic uses of Twitter, let’s see how it could be used in an ESL classroom. As said before, Twitter is a way to have easy real-life communication. It can then be used for the students to connect with you and with each other in the target language. As an example, you could simply ask a daily or weekly question to your students about a certain content you saw in class and have them reflect and comment on the subject. They could then answer and share their opinions. Also, it could be used at home for the students if they have questions about the homework or anything they did not understand properly. It is an easy way for them to help each other.
In order to create a class “group”, teachers should create an “hashtag” for the class. For example, if you create a hashtag called ESLClass201, the students will be able to go on this hashtag and tweet to the class. It would then be easy to see their tweets and to follow what it is happening because everything would be on the same page.
There are a lot of ways to use Twitter. One of them could be to make announcement to the class such as exams, tests, class content, material to bring, and more. Obviously, you might have already said all this in class, but a reminder when they are at home could be useful. Another way could be to have them write an essay with the help of Twitter. With this social network, not only they could ask their classmates for their opinions, but they could use this website to find experts on the subject. They could then participate in a discussion on the essay topic(s) to be able to come up with their own opinion. I would for example take a controversial subject an have half the class in favour of the subject and half the class against the subject. This way, the discussions would be very interesting and diversified.
Why use Twitter
You might wonder why we should use Twitter an not any other websites. My opinion is that Twitter is pretty simple once you understand how it works and it is used by a large number of people. That being said, as mentioned by teachers from University of North Carolina, Twitter is a perfect tool for students to get to know each other outside classroom and also for the teacher to know his or her students better. Anderson and Ducate from the University thought that the subjects talked about by the students were very interesting and they were even using them to start the classes. She also said that it gave the students a chance to express themselves more than they would have done it in the classroom, and obviously, it practices their writing skills. Finally, they also mentioned that it was good because students would go and write on the group page freely and they wouldn’t see it as a homework. They simply enjoyed it.
My personal use of Twitter
I had a closer look at Twitter and tried to come up with original activities or project possible to do with Twitter. The first one I came up with is pretty simple. I had the idea from a friend of mine who had the chance to do it in her classroom. Basically, the students would write a story all together. Since one student can only write a 140-characters tweet, he or she would only start the story. Then, another student would continue it, and so on. It would than create a very creative and interesting story in which every student would participate. It would make all the student feel involved and I think they would have fun writing and reading it.
A second idea I had is to create a role game. It could be a murder mystery in which every student would have a role. I would previously give them card saying what they were doing at what time and all the information they need to know. I would probably also provide them questions they could ask. They would then need to ask each other questions to find out who is the murderer. They would accuse someone every week and if the murderer manages to fool everybody, he would win a privilege. I believe the students would participate and enjoy it.
Twitter itself can be very useful in a classroom. However, there are also applications linked with Twitter that are possible to use in order to have more options with the social network. For example, Tweetpic allows you to share pictures and videos on twitter, which gives more possibilities for the students or the teacher to share information. Also, Twtpoll is a tool to create surveys and for example ask your students their opinion on either a topic or the course content. Finally, GroupTweet could actually be a very useful tool because it allows teachers to create a group in which students can post anything. Unfortunately, I did not have the chance to experiment it, but I believe it would be a similar concept than using a hashtag for the group.
After having a good look at Twitter, I believe it gives a lot of opportunities of project, activities and communication amongst a classroom. It is a tool everyone as access to from their phones, laptops, iPads, etc. Plus, since students are probably already using the social network, they won’t see it as an educational tool and, chances are, they will feel free to write on the group and talk about any subject you give them. As an English teacher, I won’t mind about what subject my students are talking about, because as long as it’s acceptable in an educational context, they are learning the language, and that’s all that matters.