Monday, January 04, 2010

Back to School: Ideas for Twitter in the Foreign Language Classroom

The first day back after break was tricky.

In addition to my Fine Arts classes, I'm teaching three Latin courses. They are whole-year courses and the Mid-Terms in each tend to be somewhat memorization-intensive.

I remember my own days of stultifying high school Spanish being led repetitively through endless vocab drills and suffering the wrath of a teacher who couldn't understand that every sentient being wasn't born with the ability to roll r's.

And so, I've tried to break things up a bit.

As all foreign language teachers know, rote memorization is just part of the game. You just can't learn a language without being immersed entirely in verb forms and noun declensions.

It's just the nature of the beast.

So, what I've been doing -- and what seems to be working pretty well -- is having students use Twitter for verb parsing review and translation practice. I first forayed into this pedagogical area maybe nine months ago and have since worked out a few 'tried and tested' techniques that I offer all language teachers. Here are the top three:

1. Twitter for verb parsing review: Have the students identify and parse verbs directly from a text into the hashtag of a Twitter feed. After ten or so minutes, stop and review the results in the feed. Incorrect parses are corrected and all correct and corrected items are saved to a second hashtag or to a wiki. In the future, I plan to make the second hashtag saved to FriendFeed for the archiving capabilities. Either way, this gives the students a collaboratively built verb study guide and is far more entertaining and engaging than sitting at a desk sounding out dozens of verb forms for what seems like hours on end.

2. Using Twitter as a 'lifeline' for translation exercises: Each student opens up the text, the Twitter feed, and a digital English/Latin dictionary in his or her browser. As each sentence is Tweeted, a virtual compendium of common mistakes inevitably is created. We then follow the system described in #1.

3. Twitter as formative assessment for foreign language translation: One of the nice things Twitter provides the foreign language teacher is a continuous, time-stamped record of posts searchable in real-time. I use this to gauge how individual students are progressing -- if I see students struggling in time or accuracy, it is a simple matter to gauge the problem and intervene as necessary.

These are just a few techniques that have worked well. I'd love to hear about things you all have worked out.


  1. Do you use a #hashtag to keep up with the students? Or a list? I'm using Twitter and so far the best method seems to be the #hashtag so I can easily access their tweets and so they can easily read the tweets of their peers.
    What method do you use? And does it work effectively?

  2. @Anon

    I use hashtags in grammar work just for the flexibility of being able to quickly create a new one for a given assignment if necessary. Lists are better for class discussion.


  3. Thanks for this post, I tweeted a question about this today and appreciate your thoughts. I am trying to persuade admin. to allow twitter use at school.

  4. I also teach Latin, and I have recently begun to use a website similar to Twitter in class. My school district is one which has the actual Twitter site blocked on the network, so I created a clone site using an open source code. Feel free to see some of the things I have done or that I plan to implement on my blog.

  5. I still can't get twitterfall to do continuous, up to the minute feeds. I keep getting tweets from days ago and then it pauses unless I refresh the page, which starts the process all over again! I do like to use Twitter for them to tweet and I like the (notso)instantaneous feedback due to our server issues at school. My kids at another school who are still learning to use technology had trouble creating twitter accounts today but didn't get the whale. I'm still learning but it's getting frustrating!


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