Tips for Teaching Social Media Literacy

If your students are anything like mine, they are addicted to their phones and their social media accounts! It seems their need for more likes and more followers supersedes their need to pay attention in class sometimes.  I think I've managed to solve the "phone in class" problem and generally do not have an issue with phones being used inappropriately during class time (I confiscate the phone for the class if it's a distraction.). However, I do not want to dismiss their love for their phone and have decided to include aspects of social media into my classroom throughout the year.  It's a topic they are passionate about and I have no trouble engaging them in discussions and activities.

1.  Social Media Survey
One of the topics I love to explore at the start of the year is media literacy and with that I love to delve into my students' cell phone habits. I use this survey as a way to encourage group discussion around the topic of cell phone addiction and improper cell phone use.  I ask the students to complete a survey on their own and then give them an opportunity to share with their partners / table group.  We then share out as a class.  Grab this SOCIAL MEDIA SURVEY for FREE and start a discussion with your students about their social media use!

2. Persuasive Paragraph
After discussing their cell phone use on the quick personal survey we delve into the role of cell phones in their lives in greater detail.  I use my Social Media Literacy Resource to delve deeper into their habits and those of their friends / peers.  We discuss how students experience FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), feel like they need to keep up with their friends' social media posts, follow celebrities and stay on top of the latest trends and fads.  This resource is an excellent way to explore the deeper issues, challenges and impacts that come from using social media.  I use this resource to jump into a larger persuasive paragraph or essay pulling from the questions and discussion topics that most motivated my students.

Here are some topics I have used in the past -
  • I am not addicted to my cell phone.
  • Teen cell phone use does not need to be monitored.
  • Teens use cell phones appropriately. 
  • Social media has control over our lives.

3.  Analyze Social Media Addiction Cartoons
Cartoons can be a great way to incorporate visual literacy into you curriculum and a fabulous way to develop critical thinking skills. There are some fantastic cartoons that really take a hard look at society and their addiction to cell phones and I have found them to be a great resource to use in class.  A quick Google or Pinterest search will yield 100s of results for "Social media addiction cartoons" - grab this FREE graphic organizer to help students analyze and critique the cartoons you find online.

4.  Incorporate Social Media Into Your Lessons All Year
If you can't beat 'em, join 'em!  Why not incorporate social media into your lessons?  Here are some of my favorite and easy to implement ideas. Don't panic if you're not social media savvy - trust me, your students will easily be able to navigate these activities.
  • Have your students create a "text conversation" between two characters in a book. What would Romeo have texted to Juliet if he had been able to?  What would a text conversation look like between Jem and Scout? 
  • Create a social media profile for a famous author, scientist, historical figure or character from a book.  There a so many free templates available on download if you do a quick search.
  • Create an Instagram timeline for a book - students draw 4-6 important scenes from the book as if they were using Instagram, add text and appropriate hashtags.  Or have different students Instagram different chapters to create a giant timeline of events in a novel.
  • Students can write a blog post or create a pod cast to review a book they have just read.
  • Students can use their phones to create a video to advertise a book (book trailer) - play their videos for the class for a fun activity!
  • Students can use their phones to take a photo to represent a vocabulary word / literary term.  Have your students create visual idioms or visual similes!
For all of my Media Literacy Resources check out my BUNDLE HERE

For more Social Media Resources check out these fabulous activities from the ladies of the Secondary English Coffee Shop!

Co-Creating Criteria with Students

Ever handed out a rubric for a task, only to watch students absentmindedly stuff them in binders never to be looked at again? I have. Many times. And it has always bothered me, as I know that if students truly understood what I was looking for when I am marking, they would be far better able to reach the learning targets. 

I tried everything: we read through the rubrics in class; I had students mark themselves on the rubrics after a first draft; I made them write a reflection on an area of the rubric which they feel is a weakness… and while I had marginal success with each of these, nothing was as meaningful and engaging as when I started co-creating criteria with students. 

Quite simply, it is allowing students to have a say in what they will be graded on, a voice in what success will look like for a particular assignment. It is a process of working together to generate the rubric for a task: the different areas which you will assess students’ skills or content knowledge, and the different levels of achievement. Practically, it is the collaborative creation of a complete rubric - columns and rows - to be used to assess student work. 

Here are a couple of reasons why I have, from actual experience in my own classroom, found this process to be highly valuable and effective (although I think that there are many more): 

  • It gives students agency: voice and choice in the process of their own learning.
  • They understand more fully what they are going to be graded on; their efforts are more directed.
  • It helps students to identify areas which may be more challenging for them, and they can focus more on growth.
  • They work collaboratively to discuss and debate, practicing skills of communication and developing critical thinking.
  • Students take ownership of their learning in a far more authentic, meaningful way. 
  • Students don’t stand in opposition to me, the teacher, as the guardian of the rubric; they see it more like a contract we all agreed upon. 
  • Their language is often clearer, and more simple than many of the convoluted rubrics out there. 

Any time you do any assessment in class: whether that is a literary essay, a narrative short story, or a creative project. But let’ be honest: it takes time. Sometimes a whole lesson or two - especially the first time. But if we shift our thinking to see this as highly valuable instructional time, it is worth it. Plus, I don’t do it every time we do an assignment in class: the first time students write a literary essay in the school year, we co-create the criteria and then I might use this rubric for the rest of the school year.

Here is a sample lesson plan for creating the criteria as a class, which can be adapted for any task: 

BEFORE CLASS: Gather 20 pieces of paper (5 sets of 4 pages): and on each set of 4, write the following at the top of each page “Area of Assessment,” “Meets Expectations,” Almost meets,” “Does not meet” - or more simply, PRINT OUT THESE RUBRIC TEMPLATE PAGES (one set works for the whole class); get tape for sticking the rubric together, and post-it notes ready. 
1. Discuss the general purpose of the assignment:
  • Hold a class discussion about the assigned task, asking students about the purpose behind it: what skills/abilities/knowledge do they think should be displayed?
2. Decide on the overall areas for assessment (the left column):
  • Instruct students to get into 4 or 5 groups (depending on your class size). 
  • Instruct the groups to spend time coming up with 6 possible areas for assessment (e.g. the usual left column of a rubric; this could be ‘content’ ‘grammar’ ‘structure’ etc.) Instruct groups to come up and write their 6 areas on the white-board. 
  • Hold a brief class discussion about the areas suggested, circling the most common 4 or 5 (depending on how many groups you have), and deciding that these will be the areas for grading on the rubric. 

3. Groups write out the levels for achievement:
  • Give each group a set of the Rubric Templates pages (each group gets a different color set: the main “Area” page and the three levels of proficiency). 
  • Assign a different ‘area of assessment’ (decided in step 2) to each group. 
  • Explain to students that they must now work in their groups to write out the criteria for each of the three levels of the rubric, for their assigned area. *TIP: It is often easiest to start with the “Meets Expectations” and then differentiate for the others. 
[Walk around & help students; prompt them to be detailed, use simple language, aim for clarity etc.]

4. Review and edit the criteria:
  • Have students come up to the board and tape their pages on the white-board, to create one large rubric. 
  • Have students spend time reading what the other groups came up with; give them post-it notes to write on to add their comments and critique onto the rubric. Discuss, make changes, etc.
5. Decide on weighting:
  • Now ask students how each area should be weighted. E.g. How many points should each one be worth in relation to the others. Add these with post-it notes. 

AFTER CLASS: Take a picture of the rubric, and then transcribe - you may need to tweak phrasing, but the content should be as the class decided. 

If you are looking for more detailed lesson plans, I have over 60 step-by-step plans for teaching writing, poetry, reading, and more! Check them out HERE

Here are some more resources for grading and assessment

Preparing Students for Life After High School

Teaching seniors is a different beast. They seem to fall into two categories: those who are ready to be done with high school and those who are scared to leave.

As a teacher of seniors (or juniors, for that matter), you can help both groups by incorporating some activities that will assist them with their post-high school plans and alleviate any fears or worries they may have. And even if they aren't excited about the activities, their parents will thank you.

One of the best ways to help your students is to assign work that they have to complete outside the classroom.

COLLEGE APPLICATION ESSAY:  I like to have my students write a personal essay based on the college Common Application questions. Because this type of writing is so different from the standard five-paragraph essay, I use an Introduction to Narrative Nonfiction presentation to familiarize them with the unique style, then we go over the personal essay specifically and how students can differentiate themselves with a powerful response. For this, I use my College Application Essay pack.   Students are able to use this assignment for their actual college application essay because I use the same requirements as the Common App (such as the 250-650 word limit). Plus, it saves me time because I usually have several students who want me to proof their essays before they send them off anyway. 

SCHOLARSHIP ESSAYS: Our community offers many local scholarships for seniors. When the requirements for each are released to the students via our guidance office, I always ask for a copy of the prompts so we can write the essays in class. Ask your guidance counselor(s) if there are any scholarship opportunities they provide students (sometimes they are posted online or up on the bulletin board in the office). Chances are, there are many that students either ignore or just don't have time to complete. By assigning it, students get to use class time AND have an English teacher available to help them write their essays, which will mainly attempt to persuade the audience that they are deserving of the award money.

COVER LETTER & RÉSUMÉ WRITING:  Students who take vocational classes in high school are often required to have a résumé, though many have never written one before. I like to practice this skill in English class because they don't always get the same feedback or input from their vocational teachers. (Let's face it, we English teachers can be very picky!) Because this is a situation where perfection is a must, who better to assign it than an English teacher?

I assign my students a pretend summer internship position that requires a cover letter, résumé, and three references. I have myself as the contact person and allow them to tailor the internship to their desired field. For example, if a student wants to pursue a career in early education, she/he will pretend the internship is for a daycare. If a student wants to work as a welder, she/he will pretend the internship is for an independent sheet-metal contractor. If a student has a real opportunity for employment, I allow them to write their letter and tailor their résumé for that position.

I use my Cover Letter and Résumé Writing pack, which includes editable templates of cover letters, résumés, and a pre-résumé organizer that can be shared electronically with students. It also includes editable rubrics and assignment prompts.

MOCK INTERVIEWS: After students have written cover letters and résumés, give them an opportunity to practice their speaking and listening skills with mock interviews.

My senior English teacher interviewed us in front of the entire class and gave us on-the-spot feedback about our lack of eye contact, mumbling, or terrible responses (and sometimes praised us for things we did well). It was frightening but--surprisingly--very helpful.

I, however, think for the first experience it might be helpful to perform these in private so students don't feel embarrassed or humiliated. You could have a volunteer answer a few questions in front of the class at first as an example, though. Download a copy of free editable mock interview questions and sample responses here. You can share these with students so they can practice their answers.

One of my former colleagues would invite a couple of professionals to perform mock interviews with him over the course of a week. Each student had an assigned time for the interview. Students were required to dress up and were sent to the guidance office's private conference room for the interview. They answered a series of questions from the three adults for a pretend position with the pretend company. This took a lot of work to set up and did require my colleague to have a sub to cover his classes so he could sit in on the interviews.

Another way to do this is to perform them in the hallway outside your room or a quiet corner of your room (have a couple of desks set up and try to make it as private as possible). Then assign students a certain day for their interview. While you are interviewing them, make sure you give the rest of the class a reading or writing assignment so they are occupied and busy while you perform the interviews.

If neither of those options work, you could have students partner up and have them interview one another during class. It's not quite the ideal situation, but it does give them the opportunity to think about what types of questions will be asked and how they would respond to them. 

FREE SURVEY: Most of my seniors plan to continue their education either at a community college, trade school, or four-year university. However, I still have a handful who will either join the military or the full-time workforce right after graduation. Before you begin the activities, you might want to do a quick survey with your students to gauge their future plans. (The survey is a free editable document you can customize for your students.) It will help you differentiate your activities and strategies to meet their needs.

ADDITIONAL ACTIVITIES TO PREPARE STUDENTS: My fellow bloggers here have compiled additional resources to help you prepare students for life after high school. Check out these great resources:

Career Readiness Bundle by The Super Hero Teacher
Career Exploration Escape Room by The Classroom Sparrow
Career Research Paper by The Daring English Teacher

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