This post makes a case for composing tweets (yes, you know–Twitter updates) as a method for comprehending, reacting to, and analyzing literature. To some, it may seem like a sacrilege to ask students to convert their understanding of classical lit into informal, often ranting blurbs of 140 characters or less. But trust me: when done right, Tweets will allow students to put literature into context and bring it to a whole new kind of life. I came across this idea a few years ago, and it has worked a fantastic magic in my classroom ever since. I used it to great success with Romeo and Juliet, and this year converted it to use with The Crucible, again, with awesome results. Please feel free to use, enjoy, and employ this strategy!

 Why Tweets?

In the second chapter of literacy expert Kelly Gallagher’s Write Like This, he actually recommends the composing of tweets as a “light” way to get students started with writing. Writing a micro-piece in the length and format of a Twitter update is a non-threatening, familiar, short form that helps kids get their feet wet and ready to approach more complex writing. In my own experience, I’ve found that this lighter writing fare removes the inhibitions or anxieties that come along with more involved writing tasks and lets even struggling students cut more quickly and sharply to the heart of the literature they are reading. Also, the often emotionally charged nature of the genre (let’s face it, people use Twitter to say whatever is on their minds as it is happening) creates an empathy with characters that requires a deep level of comprehension.

 How do I get my kids to write some Twitter-ature?

1. Select an important section of a literary work that students are reading where several major events occur which effect multiple characters. This will be the time span over which students will “tweet.”

2. Inform students that they should pick a character to “tweet” as… they will create an apt username for this character and be the voice of him or her as the section progresses.

3. Teach students the conventions of Twitter, in case they are unfamiliar. (140 characters or less, @ to tweet “at” another user, # to include a tag/category with the tweet)

4. Since the students are embodying characters, not themselves, these faux tweets have to exist outside the world of actual Twitter itself. Decide if you’d like to have your students write tweets on paper or enter them live on the closed-room Twitter-like platform Today’s Meet. Today’s Meet is live and interactive, which you can display on the screen during in-class reading. Writing on paper, while less sparkly, usually yields slightly more thoughtful results. Both have benefits. Either way, I ask for ten tweets total. As students read, they tweet as their characters would. I also ask them to include the page number that inspired each tweet for a richer intellectual exercise and simply for accountability.

5. Share, laugh, ponder, and discuss.

Need a more specific example? Click here to see the activity that I designed for my juniors to complete during and after their reading of Act III of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.

 What kinds of things do students write? Does this really work?

The best way I can show you the quality of student writing is by showing you some examples, which I’ll post below. Students are very playful with this kind of activity, but I am also shocked at the details that they notice… In the act that was tweeted below, John Proctor tries to defend his family’s honor in the face of the bloodthirsty courts of Salem and his former lover, Abigail, who is hell-bent on getting his wife accused of witchcraft. The usernames and (#)hashtags are ingenious; referencing even small-but-telling lines like,  “You sweated like a stallion whenever I come near,”  “He plow on Sunday, sir,” and “There might also be a dragon with five legs in my house, but no one has ever seen it!”

Because of this activity, my students know exactly who these characters are and what drives them. Unexpectedly rich, and witty beyond all expectations, character tweets is a perfect classroom activity. Enjoy the examples below from my classroom.

Students tweeting as John Proctor

The Proc: @TheTown This court is senseless and runs on opinion and judgement. There is #NoJustice in these trials! #CourtFail

SweatinStallion: I KNOW I’M NOT A LAWYER JUST READ THE DEPOSITION. #JudgesBeTrippin #annoyed #WifeIsInnocent

Abigail is no child! #demon #laughterduringprayer

Hey guys, who wants to see my pet dragon?! #sarcasm #WifeIsInnocent #PoppetsAreForChildren

JohnDeereProc42: @WhollyMary You’re with God now?!? You traitor!!! I’ll send the Devil upon you all right. #evil #liar #JailParty #NoPlowSunday

FarmerMan26: I confess. I am a #lecher. I am living with a problem. #FinallyFree #ashamed  @ElizabethProctor please tell the truth. #ItsOk

@BigParris thinks he’s all high and mighty. If he wasn’t the minister, nobody would listen to that nerd. #RealMenDon’tGoToHarvard

TheBigProctor: I say God is dead! I hear Lucifer’s boots! #JudgeMe #FreeElizabeth #YouKnowNothing

Student tweeting as Giles Corey

WeirdOldMan80: @MrJudgeD the girls are ACTING again. Someone should put a stop to it before more innocent people are accused. #ThisEndsNow

Student tweeting as Danforth

DanforthJudginU: I didn’t think @OldManGiles had so much rage in him. #ThatEscalatedQuickly #WeWillSeeJustice

Student tweeting as Reverend Hale

W8tedKnowledge: @DanforthTheGreat These girls are clearly lying and you will regret these hangings. What do poppets have to do with the devil anyway? #CareToExplain #WhyCan’tYouSeeTheTruth