It wasn't until about a year ago I even really knew what Twitter was. I had heard about it vaguely through my students and my daughter and assumed I was too far removed in my generation to need any more information about it. But I was so very wrong!
Twitter, if you don't know, is a social media platform originally meant to be a micro-blog. Everything you publish can only be 140 characters or less and can connect to other users through hashtags. While my learning curve is still pretty high, I've started to get the hang of the basic concepts of the platform.
Here's why it matters to a modern teacher:
All our students are using this thing
So much so that their vernacular is influenced by it! I overheard students agreeing with one another on some random subject and instead of saying "Yeah, me too!" or "I totally agree," they say retweet. RETWEET is a part of a teenagers mainstream vocabulary now. While it's hard to wrap my mind around, it's definitely worth embracing in order to better teach and connect with our students.
My first Twitter lesson plan was based around characterization. My upper-level theatre class was working on developing characters and we were looking to find another way to approach the project. I decided that instead of forcing them to write long, drawn-out essays on their characters' history, I would turn to Twitter.
How I set up this assignment
I first gave students a worksheet on this assignment. If you want to get this FREE PRINTABLE WORKSHEET, sign up with your email at the bottom of this blog to get it straight to your inbox!
On the worksheet, as you can see if you got your download, there's a space for the character name, handle and bio. For those of you unfamiliar with Twitter, below is the Stage and Craft Twitter as an example for handles and bio.
I decided to not make students actually create Twitter profiles for this project. It would have taken a few minutes out of precious class time and I wanted to keep their creative options as wide open as possible. Why? Twitter handles are unique to each user, meaning there's millions already created out there. I wanted students to get to make whatever handle they thought best for their character without the restrictions of existing Twitter handles.
For this assignment, I chose to make students tweet as if the character was in their own time period. Confusing? I know. But here's an example. Let's say a student's character is Juliet from Romeo and Juliet. We'll say her first tweet is right after she first sees Romeo at the ball. She'd probably tweet something along the lines of "Just saw the cutest guy at the ball. Anyone know who he is? #CapuletBall". We want these tweets to compliment the plot as well as deepen the motivation and story behind the character. You wouldn't want the student to create this fictitious Juliet twitter then tweet about the latest Netflix release. Make them tweet in character as well as in the character's time period.
Notice the word with the pound sign in front of it up there? Yes, I know it's called a hashtag by this current generation, but to me, it will always be the pound sign on a rotary phone. But back to the lesson! By putting a # right in front of a word with no spaces between them, you are basically tagging that word to be found anywhere across the Twitter-sphere. To return to the Romeo and Juliet example, let's imagine all the characters are tweeting throughout the party held at the Capulet's house. Everyone there would tag #CapuletBall in order to make sure their tweets can be found by other partygoers as well as make it very clear what they're up to that night. Another way to use hashtags are to utilize commonly-used phrases to better describe your situation. A perfect example of this is #TheaterProblems. Go check it out for a good laugh.
I asked students to include at least one hashtag into each character tweet. This helps them find common themes in their tweets to connect characters as well add another level of connection to writing these posts. Here's yet another example of using a hashtag in the Romeo and Juliet project. Romeo might tweet: "Can't believe the love of my life is already dead. #WheresMyDagger"
Too cryptic? Oops! But do you see where I'm going with hashtags? Make them integrate at least one into each post to push their creativity.
Discussion before they start
Before I let the students begin writing these tweets, I like to ask the group what hashtags they think they might use. Get a conversation going and decide on a few hashtags that each character has to incorporate. For the #CapuletBall, assign each student to write one tweet including that hashtag. It will help spark ideas for your students and well as flex their creative muscles.
Also discuss each character's handle name and how they might tweet at each other. Maybe Juliet would tweet at Romeo saying "@Romeo I'm on my balcony, where are you? #Waiting". That @ sign signifies that she is tweeting directly at Romeo's account, essentially starting a conversation.
Still on the fence about how this would help your actors? Read below on why it's more than worth it.
Why Twitter is perfect for character development
Most, if not all, students are using Twitter today. It's a daily activity for high school kids and an easy assignment to explain when it's second nature for them.
Remember that drab essay assignment I mentioned earlier? Can you imagine how bored a student would get writing page after page about a character? Why would you want to grade that huge essay anyway? By formatting this exercise with Twitter, you not only have an easy assignment to grade, but it also forces students to be concise and clear with their characterization. They're limited to 140 characters in their tweets, which means they have to get straight to the point when adding depth to their character.
Whether it's a minor character or the lead, every actor can create more than enough depth in a character to write several tweets. These exercises can help your actors no matter what show you're producing. And by structuring their tweets, the amount of hashtags used and the era in which they can tweet in, you continue to deepen the connection between the student and the character.
I've found that this assignment gets a fantastic reaction from students. Let me know how it goes for your class and if you can think of any other ways to use Twitter in your classroom. Tweet us at @StageandCraft to chat!
Download your Free Character Development Worksheet Here!