How One Language Arts Teacher used Social Media Profiles for Character Development

A Teacher Feature

images by 8th grader C. Williams

Students in Mrs. Ruf’s 8th grade classes read The Outsiders. Being a character-driven story with characters not much older than eighth-graders, this was the perfect opportunity for them to take a deep dive into character study. They examined character motivations, changes, effects of characters on other characters, and ultimately how they impacted the overall theme of the story.

Mrs. Ruf challenged her students to create social media profiles and posts to retell parts of the story and to demonstrate their understanding of the main characters. Students used a variety of tools from Google Drawings to

Mrs. Ruf shares her story and experience with this integrated activity.

I knew I wanted students to do some deep literary analysis with The Outsiders, but they were growing weary of writing essay after essay. I also knew I had some incredibly talented and creative students. I am not the most talented graphic designer, and tools like Canva often overwhelm me. I was not sure exactly how this would play out. I toyed with the idea of creating templates and asking students to use those, but ultimately decided to leave the creative choices up to them. I set some requirements for what they needed to include (photos, screen names, bio statements, captions, etc.). Then, I got out of their way. What they were able to create was astounding! Even better, I was able to listen in to their conversations as they made choices about what profile picture Ponyboy would choose or who might be “following” Cherry Valance on Instagram. The level of thinking and analysis required was at least as high as what an essay would have required and they didn’t have the pressure of writing a huge paper.

My 8th-graders loved this assignment. I was able to see a different side of them as they came into class truly excited to show off what they had created. For my students who do not necessarily excel in writing, I was able to get a much clearer picture of their comprehension and analysis skills as well. As adults, it’s easy to see social media as a negative, but it is a reality and it isn’t going away. Embracing it in a safe way allowed me to harness student creativity and give them some autonomy in the classroom, ultimately deepening their understanding of our anchor text. Stepping out of my comfort zone with a project like this was intimidating, but the payoff was worth it in the end.

Mrs. Ruf used Padlet as a place for students to post their creations. You can see some examples of what students created here

Kudos to Mrs. Ruf for deviating from the norm, for taking a small creative risk with her students and for being brave enough to get out of their way and let creativity happen. The beauty of this lesson is apparent. Students reached learning goals and were able to show their comprehension in a relative way. Need some standards to support this type of activity? Look no further than ISTE standard 1.1 and 1.2. Finding ways to engage our students with relevant technology is always a win!

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