The Wonderful and Frightening World of the TwitterFall

On The English Language List I’ve mentioned Twitter a couple of times in an attempt to foment some more interest among the English teaching community. I mentioned using Twitterfall and a couple of people asked me about it. It’s a subscription list without a public archive, so since I can’t link you there I’m just going to copy and paste some relevant bits.

I signed up for Twitter back in 2007, and like most people who are new to it, I really couldn’t see the point. It wasn’t until about a month ago that I started using it in earnest, and I’m now kicking myself for all that wasted time.You probably couldn’t fail to have noticed the splash that Twitter is making now in the media, much of it withering in its contempt, but mainly from people who just don’t get it. It really is something that you can only understand by participating, and that means throwing yourself in wholeheartedly.

I have also successfully used some twitter tools in the classroom. I had a great English Lang lesson last week using www.twitterfall.com on the interactive whiteboard to provide a ‘race against time’ element as the group found linguistic comments on tweets before they fell off the bottom of the screen. Language and technology was an obvious focus, but we also had gender and power comments coming through, and all the linguistic methods covered.

Then someone asked:

I’ve had a look at www.twitterfall.com, got myself a twitter account and am currently revisiting Language and Technology. The posts about this site and how to use it in lessons sound interesting: has anyone got any specific lesson plans or activities I could use, just to get started?

To which I replied:

My advice would be, just get started. Get Twitterfall up on screen, then get kids discussing what’s there and why it’s as it is.

You can alter parameters such as the rate at which tweets display from the panel on the right, and if you want to pause the flow to spend time on a particular tweet you just need to move the cursor over the tweets and the stream is automatically paused.

Among the things we looked out for were:

graphological features (eg. use of hashtags ie. # followed by a term to allow following a particular topic (you can also filter the twitter stream to look for a particular topic from the left hand panel) and the @ sign to denote a user-name); symbols used linguistically eg. = >

lexis – abbreviation, clipping, initialisms & acronyms; lots of field specific lexis (not just related to tech)

grammar – tendency towards elliptical structures because of 140 character limit

discourse structure / pragmatics – evidence that a tweet is part of a wider stretch of discourse eg. response to a question; deictic features – reference to time or place

Oh – there was loads of stuff. It went down a storm. What’s really cool is when you have a big enough network to request some live tweets aimed directly at the class. I got three when I did this last week: 2 from the States and one from an ex-pupil who’s now a journalist. She’s just tweeted that she’s working on the story of the Doncaster man who followed his sat-nav over a cliff-edge. He won’t tell her where he lives. Perhaps he doesn’t know.

(I’m always up for hearing about any other ideas or tools for using Twitter in the classroom, by the way…

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