Using Social Media To Connect Students with Authors

By 2014 Arizona Teacher of the Year Beth Maloney

Book Commercial Basics

Book Commercials have been a highlight of my English/Language Arts block in my fifth-grade classroom. The purpose of a Book Commercial is to share great authors, books, or genres with which other classmates may not be as familiar. It is a chance to hone our speaking and listening skills, too, as we stand on our class stage and deliver the Commercial to our classmates.

We first examine the rubric together so my students understand the expectations and exactly how they will be graded. I model Book Commercials many times at the beginning of the year to teach the procedure, and to introduce my students to books I think may get them interested and reading. Modeling Book Commercials is the start of a yearlong dialogue with my students as well as between students that results in great discussion about books.

Entering the Twitter-verse

I used Book Commercials with my class for several years, up until I felt they were ready for an update. Shared dialogue and experiences are one great outcome of Book Commercials, but I wondered how we could engage our class in dialogue with people outside our four walls.

As a class, we brainstormed how we could engage in a wider community dialogue about books. We decided to create a class Twitter page where we tweet book recommendations or “book hooks” and ask authors questions. I removed a line in our old rubric regarding bringing something in from home as “realia” and added a line about Tweeting.

Although my students were nervous about an end-of-the-year change, two brave souls stepped up and volunteered to go first. When the first author (Shelley Pearsall, author of The Seventh Most Important Thing) tweeted back to us almost immediately, the student who wrote the tweet threw back her head and exclaimed, “Yes! This is happening to me!” in awe. The second student who received a response (from Booki Vivat, author of Frazzled) summed up the feeling by explaining that it made her feel special, “like a real adult author noticed her.” She said it made her feel like she could do anything.

The Twitter Effect

To our delight, we have had multiple authors Tweet us back and retweet our tweets. It is amazing to see my students watch their words and thoughts enter the “Twitterverse.” The 140-character limit also helps them chose their words carefully, boosting their writing skills. I’ve never witnessed students make such careful word choices or pay such close attention to punctuation and spacing! Twitter provides an authentic audience which increases student engagement and effort.

At my students’ request, we now write group tweets when we complete a book in our book groups, or when we read a selection from our textbooks. This is a great collaboration builder as students work to perfect each character. We’ve found other classes doing the same things (and much, much more) on Twitter. We have plans to host virtual book groups and discussions with other classes next year. I hope to get an author to virtually meet with us.

The Nuts and Bolts

Since I didn’t want to share the login for our class Twitter account, I chose to have any students write their Tweets and I typed and shared them. It became part of my routine as I entered their Book Commercial grades into the grade book. Check your school or district’s Acceptable Use Policy before engaging in any type of social media with your students. If you feel that you may need to justify the use of social media for digital engagement, social learning theory says that humans learn most effectively when they interact with others.


Freshening up our Book Commercials allowed me to model making a change and taking a (safe) risk, which are character traits I like to model for my students. In return, they took risks by putting their words and opinions on social media. It has been a positive change for all of us. What do you do to increase digital engagement with your students? What can you change to make it better?

Book Commercial Rubric:

Beth Maloney is in her eighteenth year of teaching and enjoys every minute of her time in the classroom. She is currently teaching fifth grade. Beth is a National Board Certified Teacher, the president and co-founder of the Arizona National Board Certified Teachers Network and a Candidate Support Provider for the Arizona K12 Center, where she coaches and mentors other teachers undergoing the rigorous National Board certification. She is a member of the Arizona TeacherSolutions® Team and a Lead Teacher Champion Fellow through the Collaborative for Student Success. She is a blogger for the Stories From School Arizona site. Beth is honored to be Arizona’s 2014 Teacher of the Year. Beth has a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education and a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership and Supervision. She was awarded an honorary doctorate in humane letters and is currently pursuing her doctoral degree.

Beth loves talking with and learning from other teachers around the world. She strongly believes that teacher voice in the public education dialogue is the best way to make change for the better for all students. She contributes to her blog concerning education-related topics and is found on Facebook at Beth Maloney and on Twitter @DaringToTeach.

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