Low-tech methods to teach 21st Century Learners

One of my favorite type of activities to do with students in my 9th and 10th grade language arts classes is to incorproate social media into lessons.  I like to have students make Facebook pages for characters in stories, create Twitter feeds for characters and write blog posts that allow them to compare issues in a text with issues that are faced in our society today. 

While this all sounds great in practice, I quickly learned that making my dream of seamless socian media integreation  into a reality was a little harder than I thought it would be. To combat the lack of technology and firewall issues that  have stopped me from incorporating Twitter, Facebook and blogging into my classes, I have come up with low-tech paper-and-pencil replacements. 

Below are three sample low-tech activities I do with my students in place of their web-based counterparts.  Click on the name of each project to view the handout for each project.

R+J 140

While reading Romeo and Juliet, I have my students break an act of the play down into tweets.  I have them select a character and compose 5 tweets for the act.  Then, students trade papers with a total of 5 other students who reply to tweets as other characters in the play.  I discuss a few things before starting this lesson:

  • I use this opportunity to discuss with students what is appropriate and inappropriate to post online.  I will discuss this in the context of the play and ask students if in Act 1 Romeo would tweet about being in love with Juliet.  I then facilitate a brief discussion about what we should and should not post online. 
  • I talk to my students about how hashtags have two purposes:  to categorize tweets and to add personality, or voice, to tweets.  I encourage my students to use hashtags to help convey their character's message.
In addition to touching on digital citizenship and voice in writing, R+J 140 gives students an opportunity for a form of collaboration they typically do not get at school. This always proves to be a popular activity both with students who have 15,000 tweets (true story...) and students who have never heard of the social network.

Low-tech Blogging

Low-tech blogging is a fancy name for reader's response.  I will take a text, whether it is a short story we read in class or a series of articles, and ask students write a blog post in which they quote the text and make text-to-world connections.  After writing their posts, I collect all of the blogs and randomly distribute them to students to leave comments on their classmates' blogs.  I like this activity for a few reasons:
  • Students are required to formulate a thesis and support it with evidence from one or more texts.
  • I discuss with students what makes a good blog comment.  We discuss restating the question, giving an opinion, and supporting it with evidence from both the original text and the blog post.  This prepares them for responding to a variety of writing prompts throughout my class and on standardized tests. 
  • Students have the opportunity to hear/read opinions of peers outside of their social circles.  Students who are usually timid and reluctent to share are able to share their thoughts with others.
Character Facebook Pages

For one novel a year, I have students create a hard copy Facebook page for one of the book's characters.  While I know there are a variety of PowerPoint templates and tools like Fakebook that would do the same job, I have, for a variety of reasons, used a write-on template for my students.   Not only does this engage students who love Facebook but dislike reading, it also gives me an opportunity to discuss a few elements of digital citizenship.

  • Just like with the R+J 140 activity, we discuss what type of content is appropriate and inappropriate to post online.
  • In order to have success on this type of activity, students need to have a deep understanding of the story's characters in order to create posts, likes, and ads that show up on their character's Facebook page.
My students enjoy all of the low-tech projects that we do in class.  Student engagement is always sky-high during these activities and I am always impressed by the quality of work I get on these projects.  If you are in a situation like I am and do not have many computers or a strong wireless network in your building, I encourage you to try these activities.  

Feel free to use or modify any of my activities that fit your classroom.  

Share in the comments section what low-tech tools you use to engage your 21st century learners.  

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