Sunday, October 23, 2011

Twitter as Low Stakes II: Crafting Context

Justin Rogers-Cooper

Learning Objectives: Understanding, Applying

Class Activity

In both my ENG 101 classes I'm trying to experiment with using Twitter. I'm also trying to introduce them to composition skills and techniques for college argumentative essays. After evaluating their first essays, I decided I needed to spend more time teaching them "context." In my course, we've defined and discussed context as a technique connected to audience. I often rehearse the questions "what does your audience know?" and "what does your audience need to know?" when students raise texts as evidence for their arguments. Specifically, we've worked on reciting the "main ideas" of the text in addition to making an audience aware of authors, titles, and general backgrounds.

One of the techniques we've discussed is "listing" as a method to convey quickly to a reader those main ideas. For example, in When I Was a Slave students should be able to convey that the text's main ideas include "slave work cultures, white supremacist violence, master-slave psychologies, and post-war black labor."

Since we're using a new text, Southern Horrors, I decided to begin collecting a list of the text's main ideas. To do this, I also incorporated Twitter. The students began class by finding one example of a main idea from the text. Then they Tweeted that idea. For their Tweet, they put down a page number, a keyword, and a brief definition of that keyword. Then they checked their Twitter feed. They noticed what ideas other students Tweeted. They then produced a list of these main ideas. Finally, I asked them to expand their list into a full-blown "context" paragraph. In that paragraph, they introduced the text, listed the main ideas, and then wrote at least three sentences sentence explaining and/or defining three of those main ideas separately in more detail.

How It Went

The Twitter part of the assignment was interactive, interesting, and helpful. Some students were confused about keywords: should they find one in the text, or make one up? I opened it to either, but then some students had a hard time finding a made-up keyword on a page, since they had to make the connection between the definition and a passage on their own, intuited from another student's connection.

I gave the students 45 minutes to write the paragraph, but some weren't able to complete the context paragraph in that time.


Twitter functioned as a useful tool for gathering main ideas from a text. In the future, I'll need to define the keyword part of the activity differently -- I'll probably insist that students select a keyword from the text, and not create one to describe the text. Creating keywords should be a separate activity, and one that could probably also include Twitter.


  1. You *know* we are going you ask you to talk to us about Twitter, don't ya? These lessons are just too good to pass up the opportunity.

  2. Haha. My goal is to create as many different activities involving Twitter this semester as possible. Bring it on!

  3. I love this post! Twitter can be so engaging and awaken your creativity and direct sentences (although not always grammatically correct) the more one uses it! Students can play with words non-stop!