We all know that our students spend a TON of time on their devices. Many of them now spend more time interacting digitally than they do face-to-face due to the pandemic. I know we’ve all seen that slight head tilt, looking down at a device (and smiling). We’ve also gotten “text” format emails, and I know my students love to blow up the chat when we’re learning online. But the big question is: How can we harness Social Media and use it for language learning?
I had the opportunity to view Leslie Grahn’s presentation about Social Media in the Foreign Language classroom during the NYSAFLT summer institute in 2021. It gave me so many ideas about how to use Social Media in my classroom, and I was so excited that I started to encourage my students to do project-based tasks using Social Media.
At first, it was tricky. I teach sixth through twelfth graders and their experience with Social Media was all over the place. Luckily, my classes are mixed grade level and my students were able to help each other out, but I also guided them in the direction I wanted.
Here’s what I’ve learned since I started using Social Media as an authentic resource in my classroom.
Can Social Media be an authentic resource?
Yes! This was my biggest takeaway from Leslie Grahn’s presentation. We can use Social Media as an Authentic Resource to dig into other cultures and learn more about the world! What’s more, students are acquiring new vocabulary and structures while reading others’ posts.
Use Social Media to Find Expert Opinions
First, if your students are doing any type of project – and I mean ANY type of project – the sky’s the limit with Social Media. If they’re learning about food, they can search for nutritionists and chefs. They’re studying travel? Great: travel bloggers and travel agents. Studying Spanish Literature? Perfect, check out university professors or title hashtags. There are SO many opportunities to find information straight from the source without having to read longer articles or dig through the internet for information. Once you’ve found the right account or hashtag, you’re all set.
Social Media as a Cultural Resource
Social Media provides a live representation of what’s happening around the world! Students can learn about movements in other countries by finding related hashtags, they can see what music and fashion is popular in other countries, and they can connect with real people who are sharing their lives online. This gives our students real-time insight into the world around them without having to hop on a plane.
Keep it Bite-Sized
Authentic resources are often long and hard to follow. Blog posts, news articles, etc. can be long and present a lot of new vocabulary. In case you missed my post about making Authentic Resources accessible, one of the key ideas is to break it down into bite-size pieces! For the most part, bloggers, posters, and influencers have already done that! Most pages have a character limit, so you and your students are able to access short, authentic texts and video resources.
Teach them to Use Social Media as a Tool
Like I said, not all of my students knew how to use Social Media. Some of them don’t have phones, others spend their time on other activities. Their experiences spanned the internet spectrum.
Before we started using Social Media in class, we looked at WHAT social media is. My students curated image boards on Jamboard to show what they thought it was, the benefits, and the downsides. We also created a list of sites, including:
I’ll tell you what I told my students: professionals use hashtags to connect and discuss a specific topic, and we can use them in the same way! It’s almost like we’re spying on the experts!
Not sure what a hashtag is or how to use one? Click here for more info about hashtags.
Before brainstorming specific hashtags, we talked about what a hashtag is and the purpose of a hashtag. This was part of a bigger unit about technology, so we brainstormed related vocabulary terms and made them into hashtags that we could search.
Look at Resources Together
Once we had our hashtags sorted, we Googled the first hashtag (warning – do this on your own first to be aware of what might come up!). I chose to search the first hashtag on Google instead of a specific social media site because it would give us more results and show students more resources that they hadn’t thought of earlier.
We looked at the results that came up and talked about what to look for. There were a lot of results, with all sorts of different types of information.
As a class, we decided it was best to focus on:
- Expert information
- Easy-to-read and easy-to-understand sources
- Clear information
- Shorter pieces of information that we could borrow
After modeling this with students, I sent them to breakout rooms (we were online, they could easily do this at tables in the classroom with devices) to find their own resources. I encouraged them to take screenshots and save them on a Jamboard so we could use these resources later for our project.
This helps them save the information they find without having to remember where it was, who posted it, what it said, etc. By saving the screenshot, they have all the relevant information for later.