Guest Post: Engaging Students with Snapchat Stories

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Image courtesy Flickr.com

Goodbye, Facebook character profile; hello, Snapchat story.

In my last post, I described some of the benefits I’ve reaped as mentor to my student teacher, Leo Spengler. In today’s post, I pass the mic to Leo to share about the innovative Snapchat lesson he conceived and implemented as part of our sophomore English course’s argument unit. Many teachers have relied for years on the fake Facebook page activity (“Fakebook”) as a “hip” and relevant way for their students to think about literary characters. Facebook, now, has been passé to my students for about five years, so I’ve been without a good social media-based lesson for as long as I’ve been a teacher. I highlighted this Snapchat lesson in my last post and share about here today because it captures the innovative thinking that a student teacher can bring to a mentor’s classroom and illustrates how just about any social media platform can serve an educational purpose. Please read on to see my questions about the lesson and Leo’s responses concerning the overview, background, and reflection on his lesson.

How would you describe the lesson?

My Snapchat story lesson came towards the conclusion of a month-long unit on argumentation, built around the YA novel Monster by Walter Dean Myers. I wanted students to review the plot and begin to connect specific scenes to the text’s larger topics and themes. Since this was our first encounter with topic and theme, I presented students with five central topics that we’ve broached throughout our class discussions of the book: identity, family, truth, justice, and prejudice.

Before I go on, I suppose I should describe what Snapchat is for your non-millennial readers! Snapchat is an image messaging and social media platform for smartphones. On it, users may take a picture, add text, emojis, bitmojis, banners, or draw on the image before sending it to other users on the platform. Though Snapchats sent to others disappear once they are opened, Snapchats posted to one’s “story” are visible to friends for twenty-four hours. About 75% of my students regularly use the app to communicate with friends. (It’s nearly zero for Facebook.)

I began the lesson by presenting the learning target and describing the task. In groups, students had to depict a specific scene in the novel by designing a series of Snapchat images. Each image had to represent a specific quotation from the text and be captioned with the specific quotation itself. I assigned each group a series of two to five pages to depict. Once students created their images, they uploaded them to a Google Slides presentation on Google Classroom. I then asked students to present their Snapchat stories to the class and elaborate on how their scene relates to one of our five central topics.

Snapchat Prison

Sophomores Diego and Kyle

What inspired this lesson?

The lesson arose from a desire to bring students’ social and creative interests into the classroom. I wanted them to synthesize the novel’s key moments, but I couldn’t decide on an effective and engaging task. I recall asking my mentor teacher in tutorial one day, “What if they made a Facebook page for various characters? They could outline the character’s arc through posts made to the character’s wall!”

“Nobody uses Facebook anymore,” he replied. Some nearby students agreed.

I then reflected on my own interests. What do I enjoy doing when I’m off the clock? Snapchat! Yes! It’s great! Everyone loves taking pictures and sharing them with others; the prevalence of other social media platforms such as Instagram and Twitter proves this. I love making goofy faces or drawing silly images and sharing them with others. The process is creative, challenging, and immensely amusing. What’s more, a recent report conducted by the University of Chicago found that 75% of teens use Snapchat. I had to bring this untapped enthusiasm into the classroom.

Beyond this, however, I also longed to be innovative. While designing the lesson, I read posts by other educators about how to bring Snapchat into the classroom. They recommend using it to make announcements or share reminders about upcoming tests and assignments. They fail to mention any student-centered activities that take advantage of the app’s creative potential. The app’s ability to doctor, add to, and manipulate images is endless. Educators often ask students to draw pictures of specific concepts to demonstrate understanding. It’s a common way to provide students with differentiated methods of demonstrating learning and for accommodating students’ disparate learning modalities. Why not substitute mere drawing with Snapchat: an activity students are much more engaged by and adept at?

Snapchat Superhero

Sophomore Ethan

Reflecting on your Snapchat lesson, how successful would you say it was? Was Snapchat a worthwhile medium? What did it add to the lesson? Would you make any changes to the lesson?

The Snapchat lesson was mostly successful. The students effectively summarized scenes from the text by identifying key quotations and using details from the text to illustrate their Snapchat stories. The lesson in its current construction, however, suffers from three distinct shortcomings.

First, not every student has Snapchat, a smartphone, or even the digital competency required to transfer an image from Snapchat to a Google Slides presentation. Though I accounted for this by ensuring that each group had at least one student with Snapchat, some students were unable to complete the assignment on time due to technical unfamiliarity or mishaps. Though asking students to upload images to Padlet instead of Google Slides would streamline this process, the lesson still requires a tech hardware and a high level of digital proficiency.

Second, students struggled to elaborate on how their story relates to one of the five central themes of the novel. This could have been due to the nature of the unit since we spent most of our time studying the book’s argumentative, not literary, features. However, the lesson itself emphasizes summary, not analysis.

Finally, the lesson currently doesn’t give students anything to do while listening to others’ presentations. Because of this, there’s no accountability for them to pay attention. Next time, I would give students a graphic organizer or series of questions about the book’s plot so students may actively respond to classmates’ work.

In the end, though, the lesson was engaging, students got to really think about the story, and we all had a lot of fun! Next time, I’m sure it will be even better!

Snapchat Look away

Sophomores Chaz and Ethan

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