Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Using Twitter as an ESL resource

Most people have heard of Twitter by now, and most people have already decided one way or the other whether they like it or not. Some see it as the downfall of civilisation, other people spend their whole day tweeting and reading tweets.

Now, I will assume for the moment that you are unfamiliar with Twitter and will try to give a basic overview of what it is and its place in education generally before talking about how it can be used as an ESL resource.

If you are unfamiliar with Twitter, a couple of basic descriptions here and here might help. Once you've got the basic idea and have signed up, here is a nice beginners' overview. There is also a guide to Twitter etiquette here that is worth reading once you've read/watched the guides.

You can also get a sense of how Twitter can be used generally in education by reading this wonderful page here.

I just want to pull a quote from the last link, because it very much mirrors my own experiences with Twitter.

"Twitter sounds like a strange concept, but it really is a wonderful way of rapidly building a large PLN (Personal Learning Network) with whom you can share fresh ideas about education any time, day or night. And so, my final advice to share with you is Perseverance. Create an account, and stick with it for a while, you'll be amazed once you push past the awkward early stages just how beneficial Twitter can be to your teaching."

I signed up but really didn't see the point of it at first and I pretty much ignored it for the first month or so. However, slowly, slowly I began to understand how to use it to really communicate with other teachers and find a wealth of material I otherwise wouldn't have found through my own searching on the web. Because the power of Twitter lies in the ability of users to share interesting things they've found that might be of use to you.

The first thing to utilise is the search feature on Twitter. This is a great way to see what people are sharing about a topic you are interested in. It works very much like Google, you type a search term into the box and it returns all 'tweets' that contain something on that subject. But instead of webpages, it is individuals writing. For example, this is a simple search using the term 'ESL'.

Twitter search using the term 'ESL'

This immediately brought up lots of tweets and some of them sound interesting. For example, I immediately found a tweet containing this link to a blog site. There seems to be some pretty interesting material there to use with my students in class. I can now decide to follow that person and this makes sure that on my Twitter home page any more tweets from that person will show up. Great, eh? After a while you will build up a store of people you follow who provide you with a constant stream of interesting links related to a topic you are interested in.

Now, here's where I link this to mobile phones ;-) Because of the bite-sized nature of Twitter, it's a perfect format for mobile phones and almost every mobile phone nowadays has a Twitter application on it. If your phone has some kind of App Store (like the iphone), then you are spoilt for choice! But it can be done on the computer as well.

I think this is enough for now to get started. But I will be doing follow-up posts soon on how you can actually use Twitter with your students as a great way for them to interact and learn English.

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