Twitter 101: 5-Step Guide for Social Media in Education

If you aren’t using Twitter, chances are that you’re reluctant to adopt new technology. Or maybe you’ve used Twitter for years to keep up with friends but now want to use it in the classroom. Either way, you might be hesitant to ask colleagues for help. Fear not. We’ll guide you through the Twitter landscape and show you how to find the best educational resources for both yourself and your students.

Step 1: Get Started

First, create your Twitter account. Twitter will walk you through the steps. Choose a memorable handle, either your name or a nickname that relates to your identity. Be sure to include a profile photo as this helps others identify the account as belonging to a real person rather than a spammer. A photo of your face is fine, or use a picture of a school logo or mascot if you are creating the account to interact with students or educators.

If you have a personal account and want to create a separate account for school, consider making your personal account private. This will reduce confusion for people trying to find you and will prevent students from learning too much about your private life.

Fill out your bio with keywords — teacher, education, etc. — that can help others with shared interests find you. Try to pull out a nugget or two that will intrigue people. An English teacher, might include her love of Emily Dickinson. A first grade teacher might mention that he leads the kickball club. Add links to your school or class website if you’re creating a work-related account.

Step 2: Find Your People

If you know who or what you’re looking for, you can use the Twitter search page. You can import your email contacts to find friends and work colleagues. Like most social media, Twitter is clever and is also set up to help you find what you want. As you start to follow people, Twitter will use a box on the right side of your screen to suggest more people you might want to follow.

Let’s learn the Twitter landscape:

  • Notifications: This is at the top of the page and tells you what is happening with your account. You will be notified of new followers. You will also see when someone has mentioned you in a tweet or retweeted something that you wrote.
  • Messages: This is where you can send private messages to people on Twitter. This can also be a good way to get in touch with customer service at many businesses.
  • Discover: This is the news Twitter has curated for you based on who you are following.
  • Trends: Twitter provides a list that shows hashtags and keywords that are currently in heavy use.

Let’s back up a step to explain hastags. Hashtags are words or phrases attached to a # sign. No doubt you have seen these pop up in email and other places even if you didn’t know what they were. They explain what a tweet is about or add to the meaning of a tweet, and they work as a filing system for Twitter. If you’re tweeting about your school, you might use hashtags such as #edtech and #literacy. You can search for hashtags to find others who are talking about the same topics as you.

Still looking for interesting people to follow? You can use the Twitter Counter to find who has the most followers, though you’ll be more inclined to follow some of those than others. Justin Bieber has a lot of fans.

Step 3: Learn the Lingo

You’re ready to start tweeting. Type your tweet in the box at the top of your page next to your profile photo. You only have 140 characters. Twitter has become a platform to share ideas and information, so most people include a link or photo with tweets. You can either go to the source of the information, such as a news site, and click the twitter button there, or you can copy the link and paste it into your tweet.

Use Bitly or TinyURL to shorten links. Long links will chew through your character count, leaving you little space to say anything, and will frustrate your readers (Twitter shortens your links automatically, but not as much as URL shorteners). Hashtags help other people in the education field find and engage with you. And though you don’t need to get into a Twitter popularity contest, you do want people to follow you. If you have only a handful of followers, you will look like a spam account.

You can send a tweet directly to someone else by typing @(Twitter handle) at the beginning. All of your followers will be able to see this, but they may ignore it because it is addressed to someone else. If you want others to be interested in the tweet, put the handle in the middle instead of at the beginning.

A major purpose of Twitter is to foster interaction. If you read a tweet that’s really interesting, you can engage with the source of the tweet or share the tweet with your followers. Click on the tweet, and you will see your options.

  • Reply: The arrow on the left allows you to reply to the person who tweeted and will automatically insert @(handle) at the beginning of your tweet so that the other person receives it.
  • Retweet: The double arrows let you share with your followers what someone else has tweeted. This exact tweet will show up in your feed along with a credit for the other person. What if you want to add your own response? In that case, begin a new tweet. Write your response, then write RT @(handle) to give credit to the person with the original tweet, and then paste the original tweet at the end.
  • Favorite: This is similar to the “like” button on Facebook. It tells a person that you agreed with or enjoyed their tweet. And others can see how many likes a tweet has.

As with text messages, there is a lot of shorthand on Twitter. Here are a few frequently used acronyms:

  • DM or PM: Direct message or private message
  • ICYMI: In case you missed it
  • MT or MRT: Modified tweet or modified retweet
  • NSFW: Not safe for work
  • OH: Overheard
  • PRT: Partial retweet

If you’re confused by a jumble of letters, a quick Google search can usually provide an answer.

Step 4: Expand Your Knowledge

Twitter can be a great resource for you to keep up with education trends and pick up tips for the classroom. Here are some ideas for people and groups to follow:

Remember, when you’re seeking out new sources of information, some of your best inspiration will come from friends and people you admire. Who do they follow?

Step 5: Expand Your Students’ Knowledge

The age of your students will guide how you use Twitter in your school. If you have young students, you can find resources for your class. If you have older students, you can use Twitter as a platform for class discussions, as a way to connect students with authors and scholars, or even to set up video chats with students in other parts of the world.

Here are some organizations that could pique your students’ curiosity or propel class discussions:

  • Libraries: Academic librarian Matt Anderson provides a list of great libraries to follow. Start with the mammoth Library of Congress for a trove of interesting history.
  • Museums: Tailor your choices to your interests or the subject you teach. The Smithsonian should have you covered whatever your specialty.
  • Magazines and News Organizations: Dig into science and geography with National Geographic. Keep up on current events with The New York Times and PBS. Some paid sites even allow free access to articles that you get to via Twitter link.
  • Universities: Follow your alma mater, and encourage students to start following colleges that they might want to attend. This will provide teens with a window into college life and all of the cultural, social, and research opportunities that come with it.

On Your Way

Once you learn your way around Twitter, it can be difficult to tamp down your curiosity. When you start to follow NASA, you’ll see that you could also be following various astronauts and observatories and even the Nobel Prize committee. You might just find yourself needing a guide to help reduce your Twitter feed.

1 Comment

  1. Sheri Hawthorne

    April 29, 2015 at 10:40 am

    Great ideas for teachers!