Sunday, October 16, 2011

Twitter, Low Stakes Assignments, In-class Groups

Justin Rogers-Cooper

Learning Goals: Understanding, Analyzing, Evaluating

Class Activity

For my Ethics of Food class this past week, I began class with a projection of the recent student Tweets. Each Tweet corresponded to something the students tweeted in the previous few days about the reading The End of Overeating by Dr. David Kessler.

Before class, students were required to tweet a page number, a passage paraphrase, and one or two words relevant to their response while reading the passage. For class, I had the students begin the activity with a ten minute "extension" of the short Tweet they posted (if they didn't tweet, I had them select a passage from the text that they would have tweeted). Since the Tweet was only 140-280 characters (1-2 tweets), the extension would involve the students going into more detail about why they tweeted what they did.

After this, I projected directions about an in-class writing activity. They were to give context to the passage with a short summary, properly quote and cite the passage from the Tweet, and paraphrase it. When they were done, they were to practice a critical thinking brainstorm in pairs with another student. This brainstorm would involve speculating and interpreting what the passage meant. They would return to their notes from a previous class about different critical thinking strategies.

In pairs, the students compared and contrasted their selected passages. They read each other the context, quote, and paraphrase for each passage. Then, they debated and interpreted the significance of their writing. Based on the conversation, I instructed the students to write down at least three interpretations of each passage, and stressed that multiple interpretations were the key to good critical thinking passages. I also informed them that their writing would make a good potential paragraph for their second essays.

When the pairs were writing their interpretive sentences, I went to each pair group and had them read the sentences out loud. I then gave them feedback on how many strategies I heard them employ.

When two pairs were finished (and while others worked to conclude), I put them together in groups of four and had them read their writing to each other. I asked them to come up with even more connections for critical thinking by seeing whether or not they could merge ideas from one paragraph into another.

How It Went

This was the best class of the semester. The scaffolding of the assignment from Twitter to brainstorm to in-class activity worked brilliantly. This class has been behind my other one in terms of effort and success, and this activity was an enormous push forward. It was a terrific confidence boost for the students, and I ended class explaining to them that they "were the teachers today." I had never merged groups when some finished early, and I was surprised by how well the students absorbed each other and shared. I playfully pushed this by saying, so and so "has invited you over for tea and coffee. Now go join them and teach them!" Of course there was no coffee, but the students smiled through the playfulness. My one on one time with students to evaluate their critical thinking was also valuable.


The students had to understand each other's Tweets and writing; they had to evaluate and make suggestions to each other for the activity to improve their critical thinking; and they had to analyze the quotes in question in order to produce critical thinking. They did so with 100% participation, and they enjoyed seeing each other's Tweets on the big screen. The group work was also effective and multiplied the gains made by the pairs. I will definitely do this again, and the writing the students produced will work as supporting paragraphs in their upcoming essays.


  1. I liked how you added importance and urgency by making the activity something they could use in their second essay.

  2. Sounds great - I really like the idea of having students do three interpretations, and in general this seems like a powerful and effective way to put social media to use for learning!