Make social media social in the classroom

by Erin Coggins
Erin Coggins is the adviser at Sparkman High School in Harvest, Alabama.

I love to travel and meet new people. When they ask what I do for a living, I proudly respond that I teach high school journalism and advise the school’s yearbook.

The conversation that follows goes like this: “Journalism, huh? You mean yearbooks still exist?” “Of course, they still exist.” “I thought technology like Facebook and Twitter and the internet would have killed those things by now.” “Not if you know how to use social media to your advantage.” I’m always smiling after this zinger.

That’s what we do in the Sparkman High School newsroom. We use technology to our advantage. Instead of fighting it, we embrace it. After all, if social media really killed all things print, it would be the end of most yearbooks. It hasn’t hurt ours. Where else can you find free publicity, idea building, quote generators, and instant surveys?

The Senator staff has not perfected the use of social media in our classroom, but we utilize it to help create a yearbook that serves the needs of our 1,800 students.

Every staff member is required to have a Pinterest page. During the first three weeks of school, students are required to pin at least 10 design ideas per week. We then host a Pinterest party where we sit back, eat snacks, and peruse the Pinterest boards.

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Twitter is the perfect tool to advertise yearbook sales. It is also the perfect tool to teach how to write concisely because a tweet is limited to 140 characters. I give students a current events topic and they must tweet their opinions on the topic. Because their responses must be short, students learn how to write logically, clearly and succinctly.

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Yearbook staffs love to take photographs, right? With this being said, Instagram is a no-brainer. We have used Instagram to take photos of our staff at work and then uploaded them to Instagram so the student body can see the making of their book throughout the process. We have also taken Instagram photos of students who are in the book and tag them with phrases such as “guess who is on page 42?”

I also like to assign random photo scavenger hunts. Students have 24 hours to take the photographs and upload them to Instagram. The first one to complete the photo challenge, using proper photo techniques, wears the Photo Queen/King button for the week. I also use the Instagram photos to do caption writing exercises.

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Like twitter, Vine has 140-character and 15-second limits. We view this as just enough time to tease the yearbook—the funnier, the better. Vine can also be used as a newsgathering scavenger hunt. Arm students with a phone with the Vine APP; send them around the school looking for areas that have good story ideas. When they find the areas, they do a short recording of why they have chosen the spot along with the story idea. We watch these in class and use them to plan our yearbook ladder.

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Like Twitter, Facebook is a great publicity tool. We have successfully used it to promote school activities, seek out feature story ideas, promote yearbook sales and deadlines, and yes, even gathered responses to alternative copy Q & As. Facebook is also used as a gathering spot for our staff. Items like “bring cookies for Fun Friday” or “need that photo pronto” are posted on our site. This supports camaraderie amongst the staff.

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I admit I love a good selfie. Instead of requiring students to have a paper signed by every speaker at conventions, I simply request that they take a selfie during or after the session. The selfies are uploaded to our staff page. The day following the conference, we look at the selfies and have each staff member comment on what they learned in the session corresponding to the selfie photo. It’s a great and fun way to review the conference.

Sparkman High School’s yearbook can be purchased here.