Instagram Challenge

Looking to bridge the gap between my students’ obsession with love of social media and my obsession with appreciation of literature, I built an Instagram Challenge for my Quarter Trio groups last week. (Facebook, my teens tell me, is so five years ago; Instagram and Snapchat are where it’s at, apparently.)

Here’s what the assignment looked like (click on the image to enlarge):

And here are some of the best results (click on the image to enlarge), slightly modified to remove identifying info and to make viewing the work easier (in the original posts, you’d have to scroll down to see the captions on a phone):
InstagramExamplesThis wasn’t a graded assignment for points in my class; it was one of my Quarter Trio challenges which will result in a prize for the winning group at the end of second quarter. You could make this an actual assignment, but you’d want a scoring rubric and an alternative plan for kids who don’t use social media – yes, they do exist. One of my 105 kiddos prefers to stay offline completely, but she was happy to help find the quote and work as a behind-the-lens photographer.

I’d say this assignment is a keeper and I definitely learned a few things:
1. Engagement was even higher than I had expected. I knew they loved Instagram, but I didn’t realize that it’s like life-blood to them.
2. I can trust my students to leave my classroom for a few minutes. The control freak in me was nervous about setting them loose on campus (I gave them only 10 minutes to shoot), but everything was fine. No broken bones or scolding from administration – whew!
3. I learned how to “tag” someone in an Instagram photo. Because I’m over 40, I don’t naturally know these things. A cluster of 14-year-olds also eagerly showed me the app’s Direct Messenger, previously an unearthed feature in my account. (Sorry to the lady who left me a message four months ago. You weren’t intentionally snubbed, I swear.)
4. They LOVE teaching me things. I had originally set up a Google Form for them to submit their posts, but grabbing an Instagram post url from the website (it’s a bit wonky to locate this) and then copying-and-pasting it into my Google Form was cumbersome on their phones. Instead, one student asked if she could just tag me instead. “What’s that?” I asked and a swarm of teenaged honeybees surrounded me, buzzing as they showed me how to tag, share, filter, follow, forward, and maybe even reconfigure satellites. They loved that they were experts in something I didn’t know. Also, the students were right. Tagging was WAY easier for them – and for me when it came time to grade the posts. I just clicked on my “tags” area and my screen filled with their work. It look less than 15 minutes to grade the work of 34 teams. Score!

What I’ll do differently next time:
1. I’ll drop the Google Form completely and just have kids “tag” me as the way of turning in their assignment.
2. To help keep track of the posts I’ve already scored, I’ll “like” the post, showing the teams that I saw their work. After a “like” from me, they can delete the item from their account, if they wish.
3. I’ll use a really unique hashtag. The one I chose was already used by other folks, so there’s a mishmash of images on that feed – nothing inappropriate, but I’d like to have greater control over the images stacked next to my students’ work. The more obscure the hashtag, the better in terms of providing a dedicated gallery space for your classes.
4. The group selfie wasn’t necessary and could be dropped. I wanted this challenge to also be a team builder since the second-quarter trio groups are still warming up to each other. The group selfie requirement was my move to assure that all three of the team members were at the photo site instead of just sending one go-getter out to the do all of the work. As it turns out, they all willingly took care of their business together and I didn’t actually need the selfies – but they sure are cute!
5. Remember that not all kids are artsy. The examples above are the best ones, but quite a few submissions were rather flat/uninspired. For this photo assignment, I could’ve done more to teach a few photo composition tips and model more clearly what I wanted. Next time, I’ll use the images above as examples of strong work. You’re welcome to grab them, too, to share with your students.
6. I should’ve set up a separate school Instagram account. Oops. Now my student Quarter Trio teams are all mixed in with my teacher tribe and friends. Oh well, at least I can fix this when we start the third round of Trios in January.

All in all, I consider this assignment a moderate success because there was a ton of buy-in and enthusiasm from students, but I wasn’t completely satisfied by the level of academic rigor. The pictures are pretty and the kids were digging back into our reading to find rich sentences, but how else could Instagram be used to help students master content? Maybe have ESL learners create visual examples of idioms? Vocabulary flash cards featuring a photo symbol of the word and the definition in the caption? Photo evidence of completion of a library skills scavenger hunt?

Let’s kick this around in the comments section. Ideas?

UPDATE – I also built a video talking a bit about this idea and two other media-related items I use in class:

Whose Cell Phone Is This? –
YouTube Characterization –

Teach on, everyone!

38 thoughts on “Instagram Challenge

  1. I have asked students to post pictures of the topic they are researching. Another idea I have seen was to post as if you were a character in the book you are reading.

  2. Alright, Ivy, thanks for getting the brainstorming session started! 🙂

  3. Salome Swanepoel says:

    I’m currently attending a conference for English teachers. Had a lecture on how to use technology in the classroom. Thanks, Laura! This is a geat idea that I’ll definitely use with our To Kill a Mockingbird (your super lessons) unit.

  4. Talk about good timing, Salome! Any interesting tech tips/idea nuggets from the conference worth sharing?

  5. Lynn Blodgett says:

    I have a class Instagram where I developed the rules with the district information officer. Here is the letter that was approved to send to my families – you might be interested and are welcome to share it with your readers. Plus, just a thank you – I took your idea to bring in little blankets for my cold 9th graders and that has been a huge hit!

  6. Wonderful, Lynn. Thanks so much for this great letter!

  7. Laura,
    When I read your Quarter Trio challenge earlier this fall, I jumped at (stole) the idea of using IG in my community college ESOL classes. My students love it. A few different assignments we’ve done: 1. Take a selfie of you reading the book we are discussing. Share a new word you learned, the definition, and a sentence. 2. Group selfie and sentences that show similarities between your members using compound/compound sentences correctly. 3. Vocab word. Take a pic that shows the word in use and a sentence. 4. With each unit theme. For the one on Success, they had to take a pic of a person/people they feel are successful and explain why.

    Had some fantastic ones! I can’t seem to add images to this comment thread though. 🙂

  8. P.S. – I LOVE your car videos. Do you just use your cell phone to record? Or Youtube? Or another app? I spend a ton of time in the school pick up/drop off line too. 🙂

  9. LOVE your ideas, dmaduliwilliams! I’d definitely want to take your class. Fun stuff! And, yup, I film with my iPhone perched on the car’s dashboard. I stitch everything together in iMovie on my laptop (adding intro and closing slides) and then upload to the YouTube channel. In the summer, I was able to film in my home office, but these days my only free time seems to be in my car shuttling around my tween. I do get a few double-takes from the stroller moms and folks waiting at the bus stop. I’m sure I look like a crazy person talking to myself!

  10. Love this idea and will set up a class Instagram ASAP. Used to do a similar activity when I was the yearbook advisor (before insta) and kids always loved the challenge. Starting Steinbeck soon!

  11. Fantastic, mamawolfeto2! Get ready to enjoy a visual feast. 🙂

  12. Amy Elliott says:

    I have two classes that enjoyed the Of Mice and Men Instagram Challenge with a $10 gift card prize. Each entrant posted an original picture with a quote from the book (with an MLA citation), their name, and a hashtag with my name and OMAM. It worked out great. I had a panel of four judges, and we had a tie for first place. Who cares that I had to buy two gift cards?! The other participants received extra credit, and I think I’m going to create a bulletin board with all the pictures. Thanks for all your great ideas!

  13. Loving that this worked so well for you, Amy. The judging panel idea is great too! I might try that the next time around. 🙂

  14. Laura! These ideas are great. My awesome librarian recently had students take “shelfies” in the library, at the shelf/site of their favorite books. She then posted the pictures. As a Latin (former English) teacher, I’m definitely going to use this Instagram idea with vocabulary or any sentence from our readings (in target language); I think it could work with grammar and verb tenses too! thanks for the inspiration! (and for the reminder to create a school account and specific/unique hashtag!).

  15. Delores Williams says:

    Hi Laura! I recently assigned this project with incorporating Black History Month. We are in Kapolei, Hawaii, and here is a look at the assignment.

    Aloha Students! In the spirit of learning about Black History, through Springboard, we will be completing an Instagram Challenge. You and a partner will submit 5 photos (outlined below). When you post them, you MUST have the hashtags as well, so that the photo can be located. Correct MLA format MUST be on the photo as well. The best pictures will be printed out and placed in the classroom for all to see.
    A. The beauty of diversity
    B. Famous line from a speech
    C. Famous line from a poem or song (spiritual)
    D. Invention
    E. I have a dream
    F. Famous Person (not including M.L.K or Rosa Parks)*

  16. Aloha, Delores! Wonderful! I’m so glad you’ve been able to bring this idea to your classroom. This assignment looks terrific and I’ll bet some kids submit in all six categories, even though you’re only requiring five. Love it!

  17. Hi Laura! I love this idea! Thanks for sharing. Have you thought about running the Instagram Challenge like your “Who’s Phone Is This?” activity? You could have students take a picture and caption it, and the other students can comment their guesses underneath. Also, you could pick a theme and have students caption their pictures with a quote from the book that illustrates the theme. I look forward to trying this with my class!

  18. Great connection, dhrmsite! Oh, I can feel those creative juices reaching my brain right now… 🙂

  19. Hi! I’m back with another comment/question. I’m continuing to use IG challenges in my community college English course and students love them. Here’s one problem though – most/many of my students have their Instagram as PRIVATE. So, when they post even if they tag me or use our hashtag I can’t see their photos. They can go PUBLIC for a minute till I see it, like it, then go back to PRIVATE, but that’s kind of a drag. They can screenshot and then DM me, but also a drag plus I like to share w/in our class. I don’t want to follow them in order to see their whole IG. Any ideas? I thought of asking students to create separate/public student accounts just for our class . . . What to do? How are all of you handling this issue?

  20. Hey D. Maduli-Williams,
    Yup, you’ve already stumbled onto the solution I use. I do NOT want to see all of my students’ shenanigans on their IG accounts, so I asked each team to set up a new team IG account for our assignments. The team account is public and all of the other teams in each class can see each other, but the kids only ever use those accounts for our school assignments. Definitely make life easier for yourself and just have them all set up a school-only account. You’ll be glad you did. 🙂

  21. This is a super great idea but I don’t really understand how you set up the instagram accounts and kept them all in tact. They weren’t personal instagram accounts, were they? How does that work?

  22. Great question, Dana! I definitely do NOT want students to use their own personal accounts. Instead, I require each team of three students (I call them “Quarter Trios” because they work together on team activities for the full nine week marking session) to create a new account using their team name. I also set up my own fresh IG account for each teaching year, just because it’s a good idea to keep personal and professional circles separate.

    When it’s time to run an assignment, I have each team include the same hashtag in the text area of their posting. That way, I can enter/search that hashtag and it’s like a mini-photo gallery of my students’ work appears on my phone. Just be sure to choose something unique as the assignment’s hashtag to avoid awkward content from other IG users who used that same hashtag from appearing in your gallery. I haven’t yet seen anything X-rated, but you just never know.

    Hope this helps! 🙂

  23. Thanks so much !

  24. Don’t know if I am late to the party on this one, but as a suggestion if you didn’t want the hassle of creating accounts, hash tags, etc, you could create a Google Slide per class, and have each team make a slide with their picture and quote. This way as the teacher, you are just opening one file with all work, and the students still get to see what every one else did. I actually had quite a few students this year that had no social media at all, so this would be a work around. We are a Google Classroom school, so Google products are easy to use for my students.

  25. Great suggestion, Erica! I love the idea of the slideshow already built for me to show to the whole class or use as a model for next year’s class. Easy! Keep those good ideas coming. 🙂

  26. Brandy Cofer says:

    Similar to Delores Williams, I give my students an insta bio project. After a unit on freedom (mostly non fiction) and a BlendSpace project, partners create 12 instagram-like posts (I use an editable template in google slides…social media is blocked at our school and not all middle schoolers are allowed to use it) documenting their chosen influential person from abolition to civil rights. Also no MLK, Jr. or Rosa Parks. They need pictures, captions, hashtags and it has to be “liked” by two appropriate historical figures (not necessarily contemporaries). I wish we could actually use Instagram…

  27. Zaharah Zainal says:

    Thank you for sharing this activity. Simply love it.

  28. Linda O'Rourke says:

    Love this! In regards to the Instagram account, I created an Edmodo account where my students can post book suggestions, memes, #bookfacefriday pics, etc. I also post links to book trailers and other related content. Using Edmodo has allowed me to control who has access without having to worry about privacy issues. You can also create your own hashtags that will only be relevant within Edmodo.

  29. Salome, I am getting ready to start To Kill a Mockingbird. Did you come up with a way to use this idea with the novel?

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