How to use Instagram to engage pupils

Dean Plant

Dean Plant is a retired teacher and one of the founders of SWI Schoolwear, the UK’s leading school uniform and sportswear supplier. Founded in 2000, SWI aims to provide schools and students with clothing that is contemporary, hardwearing and fit for purpose — helping pupils feel comfortable and empowered by their school wear.

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Forget Facebook, for which all your students probably already have accounts. In the social stratosphere there’s a new kid in town that has stolen the show from the likes of Facebook and Twitter, and that’s Instagram. Launched in 2010, this photo-sharing app lets users publish their own exclusively square snaps for their followers to ‘like’ and ‘share’, and it’s safe to say it’s been a big hit with the younger generation — with 53% of teens using Instagram on a daily basis.

So what’s the secret to Instagram’s popularity among youngsters, and how can us teachers hope"The answer rests with the app’s ability to communicate not with words, but with visuals." put to this nifty bit of kit to use in a classroom setting? The answer rests with the app’s ability to communicate not with words, but with visuals. It’s also highly digestible, allowing people to flick through content at a rapid rate — what could be better for teens with a short attention span?

While bridging the gap between social media and learning is no mean feat, I reckon Instagram could well be the most useful platform for teachers hoping to give this a go. By creating a class-wide Instagram account (and ensuring it’s properly vetted and secure), it’s possible to engage your students using the technology — here’s how.

Showcasing Student’s Work

Pinning a piece of homework to a noticeboard will only go so far in motivating pupils, but sharing their work on Instagram? Now there’s a good incentive for hard work. Sharing pieces of work with parents and peers within the school community will give pupils a real boost, and help them feel that their efforts in school and at home are being fully recognised. Why not start a series where you showcase one piece of classwork and one piece of homework each week? That way students will have something to aim for.

Capture Classroom Memories

Capturing memories might sound like something from the pages of a holiday brochure, but we think it’s important teachers do something to record those fun, interesting and stimulating moments that crop up in the classroom. Doing so will create genuine engagement around the topic, and allow the students to more easily share classroom experiences with their friends and family. It’s a good idea to designate a different student as the Instagram operator on a daily basis, so that a new perspective is shared each day.

Share Ideas

By connecting classmates via a single Instagram feed, you’ll create a resource that can be used to share ideas and recommendations, both in the classroom and at home. Perfect for more senior students in the process of writing coursework, an Instagram account allows you to"Instagram helps to highlight student progression and demonstrate tangible improvement." share visual ideas and prompts with the entire class — be it a motivational quote scribbled on a post-it or the cover of a book you think would be useful. This interconnectivity ensures students are still able to engage with the class, even if they’re not physically in the classroom.

Record Incremental Progress

Thanks to its timeline layout, Instagram has long been used to track progress, with many amateur photographers snapping something everyday to show its development. This can be a really effective tool in the classroom, helping to highlight student progression over an academic year, and demonstrate tangible improvement — which in itself is a big motivator. Teachers we’ve spoken to have used Instagram to track a number of areas in the classroom — from handwriting to science experiments — and it’s a great way to showcase class progress to parents and the wider school community.

Let Students Share Their Experiences and Stories

One interesting way to put Instagram to good use in the classroom is to make it a soapbox for students to share their interests, hobbies and stories with the class. Elect one student a week, and have them keep a document of their time both in and out of school via Instagram. Then, at the end of the week, have them present their images to the class. This kind of approach is a great icebreaker for new classmates, as it allows students a glimpse into one another’s interests. It’s also an excellent storytelling tool, and could lead to new ideas and mind-mapping exercises.

So fellow teachers, what do you think? Does Instagram have a place in the classroom, or is it best left for the schoolyard? And if you were to use it, how would you go about it? I’d love to know your thoughts.

Do you use Instragram with your pupils? Share your experiences below!

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