This article is written by Truth for Teachers writer Madeline Newton Driscoll.
TeacherTok has been a constant companion in these last few months (ok the whole year) of pandemic teaching. I just paused to check my phone usage stats before starting this article … and I’m embarrassed to say my daily average is five … FIVE hours. I sometimes spend more time during the day scrolling through Instagram and TikTok than I do watching TV, and I can guarantee the same is true for many of our students.
For our kids, this means that online influencers are some of the most well-known, familiar, and well, influential people in their online lives. And while their algorithms (the complex coding process that social media platforms use to deliver us individualized content it thinks will best keep users on the app) might not be delivering teaching tips, tricks, and tribulations, the influencers in their lives are holding our kids’ attention, teaching them things they seem to remember effortlessly and helping kids make connections and form opinions.
In other words, the influencers in our kids’ lives are doing a very good job at teaching them, whether it’s information we think it’s important for kids to know or not. There are a few tricks I think we can take from these creators that will work in our classrooms. Don’t worry, this list does not include an “Instagram bulletin board” (even though they are really cute).
Below are some of my favorite tricks I stole from regular ol’ influencers this past year. They’re the ones I started using online but that I will definitely take back to the classroom!
But first! I want to drop a few disclaimers, or rather, reminders. In the vastly over-saturated world for influencers, there are so many ways to get lost and overwhelmed.
- Remember: follow and engage with creators who match your values. If they are striving to be and do better in the same ways you are, that’s a match!
- Similarly, only spend time watching and learning from creators who provide tips you will actually use. If you don’t own a cricut, don’t follow someone who only shows you ideas on classroom decor cut from a cricut.
- Finally, be sure that anyone you spend time watching or learning from online is someone who is aspirational, but in a realistic way! Don’t keep people on your timeline or FYP (for you page) who never share some of their more real behind the scenes moments. In my experience, this leads to nothing but stress and pressure to live up to an unrealistic teaching standard (or life standard for that matter)!
TRICK #1: Use emojis in directions and explanations instead of bullet points.
Check out the bios of most influencers and you are almost guaranteed to see some emojis as a shorthand for who they are, what they stand for, and what their content is about. Notice that this:
✅ Works best when: you use emojis consistently and logically. For example, if you’re celebrating student’s growth, you might use 🌱 for bullet points before each of their names.
🚫 Avoid: Using emojis that have a double meaning . For example, 🍃 is shorthand for a popular (but still illegal in most places!) plant. If you’re not sure, ask the kids if there’s any double meanings you should know about, or if you mess up, use it as a teachable moment about context clues!
💡 Other Ideas & Reminders! Include a variety of skin colors in any human emojis you use. Consider using unit-related emojis (I’m using zombies in our daily lesson posts for our horror unit). Use emojis in self paced classrooms to signal differences between “must-do” and “aspire to do” assignments, or use emojis as a shorthand for common expectations. Use emojis to add some ✨ tone ✨ to your materials! Keep an eye on the comments section of TikToks to see new iterations of emoji combos. ✍️ Use ✍️ emojis ✍️ everywhere.
Here’s an example from my Google classroom!
TRICK #2: Curate an aesthetic
Don’t worry! This is not about figuring out if your classroom decor is more of a “barnhouse cozy” or a “colorful eclectic.” This is again about signaling to students using more than our words. Online accounts will often curate images on their profiles to immediately convey a specific tone or vibe.
For example, the amazing @chelseakauai is a travel blogger. You can immediately tell your experience on her site/with her brand will be more moody and adventurous than if she were to just post some bright and sunny photos of her favorite trips. You can convey the same thing to your students with your materials and your classroom.
✅ Works Best When: your aesthetic matches your values and centers the experience you want kids to have in your classroom. Do you value comfort and autonomy? Then make sure you have flex seating and a lot of soft lighting. Do you value collaboration and optimism? Keep your classroom bright with spaces for students to work together.
🚫 Avoid: Falling into the crafting trap. Your aesthetic is a VIBE, a FEELING. It’s not necessarily choosing one type of bulletin board trim over the other (though it can be!). Consider your classroom as your profile: what do you need to immediately convey to kids? What do you want them to feel?
💡Other ideas and Reminders: If you can, shift some of your aesthetics for different units or seasons to breathe new life into what kids are seeing in any variety of ways. I keep housekeeping stuff the same for consistency, but find a new slidesgo.com theme for each new unit. Involve kids in identifying and creating their own aesthetics through collages or vision boards at the beginning of the year. Create with them, and use your collective aesthetics to cultivate a classroom that conveys something about you all as a community.
TRICK #3: Juxtapose for effect and emphasis!
On TikTok, creators can film a video using any “sound” that’s in the library. Right now, we’re seeing a lot of makeup tutorial videos with a sound of another user discussing an important social justice idea.
This helps to a) trick the algorithm into thinking the video is just another makeup tutorial, which helps it reach a wider audience, and b) provides additional points of engagement when watching the video.
You can do this in class too. Combine different activities that don’t normally align (ex: reading and walking around the block), or use for cross-content transfer (ex: journaling in math class).
✅ Works Best When: you already have clear routines and expectations set up and kids need something to break the monotony. Or when kids are struggling to transfer learning across different content areas.
🚫 Avoid: doing this meaninglessly. It can be confusing for kids without a clear debrief or explanation. Even online, creators will often put disclaimers in their caption or on the screen to explain to viewers why they have combined this video with this sound. Keep it clear for kids.
💡Other ideas and Reminders: Make sure you’re not juxtaposing something that will undermine something very important without having buy-in and understanding from students. Try using music that doesn’t match the activity, and have a student DJ select your sounds.
TRICK #4: Link all relevant materials
“Link in bio!” “Link below!” “Link in comments!”
When an influencer wants you to click on something, they make it impossible for you to miss the material.
Do this same work for your students, whether it’s clear links or hints on their work/your slides about which materials they might use for help and where they might find them.
✅ Works Best When: you know your curriculum and have resources for the kids! This can be heard for new teachers, or teachers in a new grade/subject. Use some of the 40HTW materials on setting up your classroom to get started on this path, and, as you create/curate new resources for kids, link them through the year.
🚫 Avoid: overwhelming students with resources. Online, you can have a linktree that easily sorts most recent links at the top. A classroom? Not as easy to keep in order. Make sure you’re thinking of 1-2 resources kids might want to seek out each class period and double check before teaching that they are where they should be (empty pencil cup nightmares anyone?!). Make it clear when, where, and how they should find them
💡Other Ideas and Reminders: Have an archivist in your classroom if your age level allows for that! Put students in charge of archiving materials: labelling, filing, and pointing students in the right direction. Then, you don’t have to remember where each resource is all alone, you have a student (or more) to help you out.
Create a template in Google slides for daily tasks and assignments and resources. Publish this presentation online and provide students with that link (I like to use Bitly to keep it short).
Then, all you have to do is update links to resources for that day’s lesson in your slideshow, and kids just need that one link.
Here’s my Week-At-Glance with hyperlinked materials kids will need. I update it each week, but the link for the kids stays the same!
Madeline Newton Driscoll
8th Grade ELA
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