We want our students to be good people, good citizens, and good friends. Now, as technology grows more and more present in our students’ lives, we need to teach them how to be responsible internet users, too. After all, we are teaching the next generation of tweeters, texters, and viral video sharers.

Twitter & Instagram

The idea of tweeting in class may not appeal to some teachers, especially those with a technology ban, but several case studies have proved that controlled use of social media in the classroom is an easy way to boost engagement. Math teachers use Instagram to share math jokes and homework assignments, and elementary school teachers use it to feature colorful student work.

Class accounts can be useful, too. Ms. G’s 4th Graders use Twitter to share what they learned and summarize daily objectives for parents and friends who follow the account. These accounts also feature students of the week, share photos and videos of special days, share reading recommendations, or encourage school spirit. The photo below was recently posted by our school account during a pre-PARCC spirit week.

Camden Street School

Many organizations (such as NASA, the U.S. government, and PBSKids) regularly host Twitter chats where users can ask experts questions. Authors do this a lot, too. Check some of your favorite publishers, like Random House or Scholastic, for information about chat schedules. Students love the opportunity to tweet questions directly to writers and experts they’ve studied or read, reinforcing a lesson and increasing engagement with a given subject.

This sort of success is easily imitated. Last year, my students used Twitter to publish quotes from written work and publicize an MLK Day service project. They were really excited to see their work and their photos published in a public forum. So, too, were the students of Catherine Ordeman, a fellow Teach For America corps member, who launched an Instagram project in which she took portraits of her students in front of a quote by the President to teach them about social issues.

Safety First

Before implementing any social media projects, teachers need to stress internet safety above all. Once parental permission has been given, students should sign a contract just as they might for science safety labs.

Most schools and districts already have this policy in place. Still, it doesn’t hurt to reiterate basic rules like warning students against sharing personal information, revealing addresses or last names, or communicating with people they do not know.

NetSmartz.org is a comprehensive resource for educators, parents, and kids to implement safe online practices, and includes free, downloadable teaching resources such as activity cards, pledges, and presentations. I also recommend bookmarking Edutopia’s comprehensive list of resources on digital safety.

To Share or Not To Share?

Not all of our students understand that what they put on the internet leaves a semi-permanent digital footprint. When I taught high school English, I asked my students about their social media use on the first day of school. The information they share on social media revealed deeply personal things about themselves. Most of them didn’t realize future potential employers and college admissions officers would be able to access their embarrassing tweets from their freshman year of high school.

You can tell your kids how what they put on the internet can be seen by millions quickly, but it sometimes helps if you can actually show them the speed of the internet in action. Here are five useful videos to help teach your students about digital citizenship.

Not all teachers may agree on a hard and fast rule for what should be shared on the internet, but I want my student tweeters to contribute something positive to an outlet already brimming with internet trolls and cyber bullies. We have a poster (below) in our classroom that reads, “before you speak: think,” and these guidelines are just as useful for social media.


Do you teach in a no-tech school? You can still use social media in interesting ways! Read How to Use Social Media in a Low-Tech Classroom.

Photo credit: Flickr (top); M. Narov (middle, bottom)