Using Twitter in ELT

18-Mar-2009

IH Prague teacher and e-learning coordinator, Ania Rolińska, writes:

Using Twitter in ELT                 

 

What is it?

Twitter is a combination of a social networking site, microblog and instant messenger that lets you stay hyperconnected with your friends, family or co-workers. The primary purpose of the service is to keep your social circle posted as to your exact whereabouts and doings through regular updates or ‘tweets’. Answering a simple question ‘What are you doing?‘ can require some mental gymnastics though as you have to squeeze the info into a tiny space of 140 characters. Therefore, you have to be concise and to the point (some people resort to text speak to gain extra space).

Setting up a free account can be accomplished with a few clicks of a mouse. Another few clicks is enough to network your account with those of your friends’ and get their updates straight onto your Twitter user page, mobile phone, web page or blog (depending on the selected settings). Your tweets can stay private between you and your contacts or be accessible to the public. For more information about how Twitter works check out their About us page or 7 things you should know about … Twitter, an article on www.educause.net.

How to use it with learners?

With regards to English Language Teaching (ELT), Twitter seems to be a tool worth looking at and exploiting.

                              

At a basic level, students can follow tweets on a public timeline. They are provided with digestible bites of authentic language, and through guided discovery they are exposed to the rules of current usage (text speak, ellipsis).

In more practical terms, Twitter instantly lends itself to practice in the use of Present Continuous or Present Perfect (reporting what the person has just done), but also other more advanced structures like participle clauses or ellipsis. These features are easily overlooked in traditional language instruction.

But Twitter is not only about announcing what you are up to; it can serve as a forum for reflection, posting important questions or sharing online resources (just post the URL like in the screenshot below). The followers can respond to the tweets by posting comments and asking follow-up questions, thus sparking an online conversation.

Twitter could provide space for thriving student-to-student(s) collaboration and interaction outside the class, thus supplementing Macmillan English Campus self-study resources and tutor-to-student(s) communication. What’s even more important is that the solution is simple, intuitive and easy to grasp even for the less technologically minded. With that in mind, here are some ideas on how to use Twitter with your class.

Facilitating vocabulary acquisition/retention

The teacher posts a few words plus their definitions in the MEC Word Lists (or messages just the words to students who look up the definitions in MEDO and create their own wordlists). Compiling a list of lexis is a good start but using the words in context is the next step and that’s where Twitter comes in handy. Students create personalized examples with the new words/phrases and publish them using their Twitter account. There could be a new word every day and every student recycles the same word, reading their classmates’ updates for different examples. Alternatively the teacher could send a different word to every student once a week and they pool the new words by checking their classmates’ updates. There might be a competition for the best example or one posted the fastest. Both methods can be used to revise or pre-teach any vocab from MEC vocab/listening/reading activities.

Current news

Select a News Item that your students might be particularly interested in reading about or find somehow controversial. Ask them to read it, choose one of the accompanying questions and answer it on Twitter. Then ask them to read their classmates’ posts and comment on the content, thus engaging in an online discussion. A great introduction to using Twitter in this way could be the MEC News Item Twitter gets political.

If you use a News Item in class, ask your students to look for related articles/videos/podcasts on the internet (you can allocate selected websites to make the task easier for them) and post the URL in their Twitter status (with a mini-commentary if they can fit it in). Classmates look at the suggested resources and post their comments, using the feature of ‘reply to the Twitter update’.

You could also tell students to follow current news or celeb gossip – they choose or get assigned a theme or person and try to look up relevant information as often as possible and post it on Twitter. To motivate them you could run a contest for the best reporter.

Mini stories

Students write summaries of their day or invent mini stories about a fictional character and post them over a period of time (see Novels in 3 Lines project for model). They could do it individually or take turns, each of them providing a subsequent episode (a class Twitter account would be better in that case).

I’ve always wanted to know…

The teacher or a student posts a question to which the other classmates have to find an answer or express their opinion. In the same vein students might post a problem to which the others suggest solutions, e.g. they need to buy a birthday present for their gran. So in the tweet they quote the maximum price and vaguely specify their gran’s interests. The classmates look for a perfect gift online and post the URL to it in reply to the original tweet.

I am sure there are other stimulating ways in which Twitter can be used in class. No matter what the task is, students interact with their classmates, teacher and other Twitter users producing bits of language in a way that forces them to be brief and precise, thus improving the important skill of thinking clearly and communicating effectively.

 

Leave a Comment