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Using Social Media for Author Study in the Classroom

written by: Lenzi Hart • edited by: Wendy Finn • updated: 1/5/2012

Middle school teachers, listen up! Tired of the boring, stale methods of teaching an author's background to your students? Captivate their interest by enlisting them to create a Myspace or Facebook page about the author you are studying!

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    Enrich Author Background With Social Media As Your Guide

    My middle school students LOVE social websites like Facebook and MySpace. So much so, that our school has had to block the site on our computers due to students wanting to log-on during school hours. Older generations of teachers are scared of these social sites, due to the bad press they have received concerning child predators and the like. However, many parents closely monitor their teen's social pages and keep tabs on their Internet activity.

    Students communicate after school through their personal MySpace and Facebook pages and spend lots of time updating and maintaining their sites to reflect their personality. I really wanted to come up with a way to tie MySpace into a lesson plan because just the name "MySpace" immediately peaks their interest! Students love lessons that they can relate to, and in this lesson, you will definitely be able to involve a student in a subject that is traditionally considered stale and boring.

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    In Practice - Poe's Facebook Page?

    Before reading a piece of classic literature, I always like to give background on the author. Before reading "The Tell-Tale Heart" I do a small lesson on the back ground of Edgar Allan Poe that details his tragic life and times. My goal is for the students to tie the author's personal experiences to the literary term "author's purpose", but I didn't know of a great way to do this. Usually, I would copy off a page of information about the author, we would read it together, and that was that. Students would wander during the reading and zone out, not interested at all in the boring piece I had revamped from the encyclopedia or photo-copied out of our literature book. The students were not retaining and certainly not caring about the author's background.

    This year, before passing out my information on Poe, I told the students that we would create a MySpace or Facebook page for Poe, based on the information we discovered from the background sheet. Like I had said before, our school has blocked access to both sites, but I decided I could overcome this minor obstacle! Using Microsoft Word, I created my own version of a MySpace/Facebook sheet, I titled "AuthorSpace" and used the clipart shapes to re-create similar graphics and headings familiar to an actual MySpace and/or Facebook page. I found a picture of Poe that I pasted on the sheet and included several blank boxes with the familiar "About Me", "Books", "Movies", "Heroes", and "Music" titles over my boxes. I informed the students that the "About Me" box should have a four to five sentence summary of the background sheet, but that the other boxes they could get creative with and "infer" what Poe would like to answer in those boxes, if he were alive today. Students were also instructed to decorate the paper and create a background that they felt reflected Poe's personality.

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    Students Pay Attention

    Students loved the assignment and actually paid attention to the background information so their MySpace and Facebook pages were accurate and unique. It was also interesting, and rather comical, to see what they thought Edgar Allan Poe would like if he were alive today. Many students felt his favorite movie would be The Saw series, and his "hero" would be Stephen King! You can use this activity with any author of your choosing, and if you have a hip school (that doesn't block social networking sites) you could even have them create "real" MySpace and Facebook pages for your author!