Lots of articles have been written about great ways to use Snapchat to brand and promote your library or classroom. This is something different: a glimpse into what happened after a high school librarian and an English teacher learned enough about the app to experiment with it in school.
The freshmen of Dartmouth (MA) High School, where I am a library media specialist, were studying mythology and folklore when English teacher Jessica Brittingham approached me with a “crazy idea.” The district’s English Language Arts (ELA) curriculum was requiring her three inclusion classes, with students with varied abilities and interests, read selections from The Odyssey, Homer’s epic poem with demanding text. By using the Snapchat app, Jessica hoped to alleviate challenges and increase student engagement. We joined forces and quickly organized a plan to put this zany idea into action.
The students were divided into small groups and assigned a book from The Odyssey to read and annotate together. This acted as the anchor text for their “snap stories.” Next, they were required to plot out a storyboard by sketching a minimum of 10 10-second snaps that represented Odysseus’s journey. My storyboard handouts replicated the Snapchat capture screen to optimize their creativity. Once their storyboards were approved, students began the snapping portion of the project.
The Trials and Tribulations
Neither of us could predict how this assignment would pan out. It seemed simple enough; students would curate a Snapchat story that relayed the different parts of Odysseus’s journey. However, Jessica and I were still new to the app, and student excitement over The Odyssey did not exist. What we did know was that our students loved Snapchat, and we wanted to meet them where they were. However, we both agreed that students should not access their personal accounts at all. Instead, we set up “safe” Snapchat accounts for each group. with Jessica serving as the administrator and password holder. Establishing these accounts turned out to be an incredibly tedious process; we had to create each one separately because Snapchat does not yet support the use of multiple accounts under a single user.
With the project’s “behind the scenes” preparation completed, we felt fairly confident— until we rolled it out to the classes. Students either groaned about working in groups or having to log out of their personal accounts, and they did not embrace the idea of using Snapchat to do school work. Although we felt dispirited, we were not defeated. We asked students to pick unique usernames that directly related to their group’s section of the poem, and we highlighted all of the fun aspects of Snapchat. We encouraged them to create original images and videos, to doodle and add text, and to experiment with the different filters available. We had students follow our school accounts and even started snapping with them! That got things going.
Excitement filled the library as our formerly reluctant students brought their storyboards to life. Emojis created characters; Filters allowed students to design backgrounds; and the face swap feature cleverly turned one student into a cyclops. Students truly took advantage of Snapchat’s features, and it was awesome! We knew these projects had to be shared, so Jessica and I constructed a gallery walk. Group Snap codes were downloaded, labeled, and printed for display around the library. Anyone who visited within the 24-hour period had an opportunity to add each group and watch the prized creations. Everyone loved this part.
Tips and Tricks Learned the Hard Way
- Use more than one email to set up accounts. Try having one student per group set up the account; they can share their login credentials with the project administrator.
- Make sure everyone’s account settings allow for all of the participants to access each story. Your students will, most likely, be able to do this with their eyes closed.
- Remember, there is only a 24-hour window for Snapchat stories. Plan to have each group save their final products in “memories” or to their camera roll. Otherwise, the content may be lost forever.
- When in doubt, ask a student. We learned so much about the app from them.
From start to finish, this experimental project lasted five and a half 86-minute blocks. Although there were some discouraging moments, it provided us a fresh opportunity to teach project and time-management skills to reluctant learners. The heavily scaffolded requirements and built-in reminders kept students on task, deterring procrastination. As a result, students were able to understand and modernize this classic, while we got a crash course on Snapchat! Ultimately, Jessica’s crazy idea turned out to be a fun, engaging, and successful assignment that (mostly) everyone enjoyed.
If you’re interested in learning more about Snapchat, I suggest checking out Matt Miller’s Snapchat 101 for teachers— what you need to know or just downloading the app and asking a student to give you a quick tutorial. Meet them where they are. You’ll both be glad you did.
Amanda Lawrence (@LibrarianMsL) is a first year library media specialist at Dartmouth High School in South Dartmouth, MA. Follow her social media adventures on Snapchat and Instagram @dhs_lmc.
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