During the transition to distance learning, many teachers looked into new ways to engage their students in an online environment. For some teachers, this meant bringing social media into their virtual classrooms. With so many students already using social media, tapping into that engagement presents a unique opportunity. 

“Social media is a great way to build classroom community,” says Susan from Ms Cottons Corner. “Students need to maintain social connections, even before the pandemic. Social media is an important tool for today’s students as they build community. Teachers should honor that, facilitate that, and help them learn to use it responsibly.”

But, while social media can be a powerful tool for engagement, it can also be a tricky one to navigate — it’s not appropriate for all students, for example, and your district or families may not support it. So we asked the TpT community what they think other educators should consider before using social media in the classroom, and how they can do so successfully if it seems like the right fit.

Getting Started

It’s important to start with a strong understanding of the social media ecosystem. That means getting acclimated with the main social media channels most often used by teachers and students today. To do that, browse Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest, and yes, even Snapchat

  • Learn the basics. Check out the guides for creating an account on each platform: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. On some social media channels, like Facebook and Twitter, have groups and chats devoted to teacher community and professional learning. We also recommend reading the platform’s community or user guidelines to understand what kinds of activities are and aren’t permissible.
  • Understand privacy rules. “HIPAA and FERPA are a must,” shares Belinda from BVG SLP. Consult your district’s specific regulations and rules about social media and student privacy before you start. You should also familiarize yourself with each platform’s privacy policies, which will lay out the data they collect about you and your students, as well as how it’s used and shared. Understanding what tools each platform provides to ensure compliance with your district’s social media policies and applicable laws is also important. Finally, It’s important to ask for parent and family input too. If you’re not so sure about traditional social media options, there are communication platforms aimed directly at parents and families, like Remind.
  • Your privacy is important too. You may already have personal social media accounts, but you may not want to use them in the classroom. Instead, you may want to set your personal accounts to “private” and create new accounts specifically for classroom use.
  • Don’t forget to find your own community. Whether or not you’ll be using social media with your students, it can still be a great tool just for you. Use hashtags to find educator communities and follow accounts that align with your interests and goals. Get inspired by what your friends and public figures are doing and posting on social media. Educational companies (like TpT) also usually have a robust social media presence and post often.

Teach About Safe, Responsible Social Media Use

Before weaving social media into your classroom, make sure students know the basics of appropriate online activity and safety.

  • Make it age-appropriate. In today’s world, many students are online — but that doesn’t mean they should all be using social media. For good reason, many sites have age restrictions for starting an account, which you can learn about in their user guidelines. With any student using the internet, it’s important to talk about social media as it relates to online safety, but it may not be appropriate to use it as an engagement tool. Instead, use social media to build community with parents or other teachers.
  • Bring parents and families into the mix. If your students are old enough for social media use, it’s best to have their parents and caregivers onboard with social media first, to make sure they’re able to monitor their children’s activities online. After connecting with parents, Amy Lynn from Amy Lynn Teaches says she conducts a videoconference with her entire class, explaining the procedures and expectations to students.
  • Build an example account together. “I start the year with a project where students create a Facebook page for a famous person,” says Susan from Ms Cotton’s Corner. “The project accomplishes ELA standards while giving us a forum for discussing, in a non-personal way, what responsible and safe social media looks like.”

Build Social Media Into Lesson Plans

If you’ve ultimately decided that social media is right for your classroom, it can be an effective way to drive student engagement. Here are some ways other educators have used social media in their lessons:

  • Start with a simple hashtag. “Twitter or Instagram can be used to delve deeper on class topics by creating a hashtag on a topic, and the kids have to share something interesting they found in the topic,” says Tanya from Gifted Teacher 305.
  • Facebook groups are perfect online forums. “[Teachers can] create a Facebook group for students to post questions [that] can be answered by the teacher or her students,” says Tanya from Gifted Teacher 305.
  • Use social media to teach social skills. “Social media is a great way to teach social skills, including appropriate reactions, reading and interpreting inferences in messages, using emojis ‘on topic’ and appropriately, negotiating and compromising,” says Angela from The Speech Serenade. “It’s also a great way to dissect advertisements and determine perspective and persuasion.”
  • Use it for special occasions. “Birthday shout outs online are also a fun and sweet activity to partake in,” says Amy Lynn from Amy Lynn Teaches. Some teachers also use platforms like Instagram to highlight a Student of the Week. Definitely be sure to have parent permission and check your district’s photo policy before sharing photos online featuring students.
  • Teach the big lessons. “I encourage students to be honest AND kind,” says Angela from The Speech Serenade. “To think about different perspectives that people may have when reading their messages and reactions. To never infer tone from a printed message alone.”

If you’ve been thinking about using social media in your classroom, we hope these tips are helpful. For more tips from TpT, be sure to follow us on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook to join our online community.

Confidently navigate the 2020-21 school year with expert Teacher-Author and educator advice in TpT’s Back to School 2020 Guide: For Teachers Creating Tomorrow