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10 Tips for Engaging Students in Social Media Discussions

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Social media can be a powerful teaching tool for fostering civic engagement, argumentation skills, and digital literacy — but it requires active teacher involvement to really work. KQED’s Do Now discussions—weekly social media-driven activities for students– have become a pivotal part of my practice. I have seen my students gain skills in making claims, defending them, questioning other ideas, and discussing topics of tension with respect.

It has taken years to understand what works best in my context, and I continue to tweak how this valuable tool fits into my teaching. Here are some important lessons I have learned along the way. Try them out. Make any changes for your own students, and please share your own helpful tips! (These relate specifically to Do Now, but can be applied to any student activity you are conducting on social media).

10. Don’t waste precious time and attention on negative or obscene posts. You can flag them or send them on to the KQED folks, but stay grounded in the positive experience that is Do Now. When the authors recognize such posts are disregarded, this tends to limit these minimal contributions. Plus, it reinforces norms of having productive, inclusive civic discourse.

9. Don’t try to reply to EVERY student post. Choosing perhaps the top 10 every week will not only alleviate the pressure on you but also give learners something else to strive for every week. Plus, it boosts the quality of your interaction to your students.

8. Respond to learners in the media of their post. This helps keep you vigilant of how to use new media tools and lets you have a perspective on possible struggles learners may experience with the particular app or tool. Additionally, learners respect your effort on remaining a media producer like them.


7. Keep track of stellar student responses. Got some particularly strong work you’d like to share? Save links or screenshots to save with the folks at KQED! Who knows? Maybe, they’ll be showcased on the RoundUp!

6. Celebrate student successes. If your learner is mentioned by KQED in their “Roundups” series, make a big deal of it. Did you know that each Do Now topic gets about 300-600 student responses? Considering this, to be recognized in a Round Up is quite the accomplishment. Treat it as such.

5. Time is of the essence. It’s called Do Now for a reason. Engagement with our learners needs to happen within 24 hours of their posting on the discussion board or other social media. Since there are definite observed opening and closing times of the discussions, there’s a focus on deadlines. Our kids are part of the On Demand generation, and when we delay our recognition of their significant contributions, they are less likely to truly engage in the discourse in the future.

4. Be a cheerleader for your kids! For many, this is the first time they will begin to build and consider what their digital footprint should look like. They may be quite tentative when addressing potentially polarizing issues. They may be sorting through what the events mean to them. They may resist expressing another viewpoint due to seeming too harsh or too critical. How we respond to them, how we approach the topic, how we treat the activity will very much influence their interactions with others and their engagement in the discussion.

3. Be flexible in your approach. There can be as much or as little to Do Now as you make of it. Some weeks, we ask learners to do a lengthy multi-paragraphed post on the discussion board, Tweets, replies, and media production. Other weeks, it could be quite a bit less. We could be focusing on media or counter argumentation or thesis statements. That’s ok. Making Do Now work dynamic keeps the activities fresh. Just make sure to create checklists and rubrics to guide your learners’ work. It not only reminds learners of expectations but also keeps the work tied to academics and standards.

2. Don’t forget to use the right hashtags. What a pity it would be if a quality response isn’t recognized or responded to just because of a missing hashtag. Of course, use the current #DoNow one, but it’s also valuable to create a class hashtag to keep track of your own learners. It makes the process of assessing and responding to comments much more efficient and allows you to respond to many more of those meaningful discussions!

1. Encourage deeper engagement. Respond to learner posts in such a way that they dig deeper into the topic. Many learners will want to jump into the Do Now discussion with their opinions. Many are tempted to offer counter arguments without citing research. Model the desired behavior for them. Include links to useful sites where either you found evidence to support your claim or a suggested resource to strengthen their argument. Ask them questions that demand more than their opinion. Directly inquire why that is their claim. This will not only encourage revisiting their post but also demonstrate methods of discussing with their peers.

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