Of Tweets and Teens

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably noticed by now that I’m as likely to retweet something that entertains me as I am to retweet good educational practices when I see them (I’d argue both are important–one for reasons of my sanity and…actually I guess both of them for that.).  Which means, for me, that the Best Twitter is the Twitter that both entertains me enormously AND gives me something concrete that I can use with my young writers.

…And if it happens to use emojis and punctuation as graphic design…well…that’s just what the kids are into these days!

I mean, just look at this masterwork.  The perfect distillation of a classic down to its essence:

mice and men.PNG

Don’t pretend you didn’t laugh emojiat that.  It’s brilliant! It’s also a great way to let your writers have a little bit of writing fun using a non-traditional medium.

Of Mice and…Bunnies?

While it’s certainly not traditional writing, and might even feel too simple for the likes of plot summary assignments, it’s maybe worth noting what “Twitter writing” or “text talk” really entails in terms of a writer’s skill set.  Because yes, even the most luddish of Luddites should at least acknowledge that a writer attempting to compose in either medium is making some writerly moves:

  • Every word and image has to consider the clarity of the message versus the brevity required to fit it into a reasonable space (Twitter still has a limit, even if it has doubled).
  • The effectiveness of the humor depends on an exactness of detail–the choice of one image (like a squirt gun) makes the gag funnier, but the attention to the finer points of the novel itself are what really make this tweet a treasure.
  • The paring down process–from a broad plot full of nuance to a single image that manages to make you chuckle at one of the most painful moments in the entire Canon–is a fairly astute act of critical analysis.  There’s absolutely no filler or loose content here.

But, as Levar Burton used to say, you don’t have to take my word for it.  Look at what happened in the replies to this tweet:

mice and men 2.PNG

This is one of several users who immediately questioned her about her use of a mouse instead of a bunny, but as she points out, the title of the book borrows its choice of mammal from the dead rodent he’s always carrying around in his pocket.  Details. She did her homework before composing this puppy. By which I mean the tweet–if it were an actual puppy I’d keep that away from him as well…

Modernizing with Emojis

Admittedly, though, that tweet is more of an elaborate digital diorama than a writing sample.  As a more linguistic alternative, consider the slightly more traditional structure of the mini-dialogue (you’ll still have to tolerate the emojis though…).  

gatsby emojis

These are, in many ways, even more clever in that they demand a bit more elaboration from your young writer, while still demanding all the brevity and careful image choice.  As an added benefit, they work best when a writer understands that imposing a modern, hip slang to the old stuffy plots of the classics makes them much, much funnier.

You can obviously decide how much inappropriate language you can tolerate (I’d shy away from the f-bombs in my classroom, even though I found several on Twitter where the profanity certainly enhanced the humor), but with so much colorful and playful language in our pop culture lexicon, that shouldn’t put too much limitation on your kids’ ability to create some really funny mini-summaries.  

Diction and syntax play such a huge role in these playful little tweets that kids have no choice but to be mindful of both.  And since the whole point of the exercise is to capture a humorous voice and tone, a day spent creating, sharing, and laughing at these in class should pay huge dividends if you help them transfer those skills into a more formal writing piece.  

They might also work as a critical analysis formative assessment–or just a chance for writers to play with the craft of writing for an authentic audience.  Notebooks and other forms of low-stakes writing are excellent ways to help students practice mastering language, but they can also become a slog as the year stretches on and your writers start to get worn out.  Letting them use social media forms as playgrounds for exploring their voice as writers is invigorating and authentic. Not to mention the laughs you’ll all get to have together. 100

–Mike

Follow us on Facebook or let us know your favorite fun writing activity by reaching out to me on Twitter @Zigthinks

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