Monday, April 20, 2015

Guest Post: A Guide to Using Instagram in the Classroom

By Jennifer Gray

Everyone loves social media.  Middle school students, like adults, take out their smart phones and tablets every chance they get to check their Instagram feed.  I am a teacher who doesn’t want to fight for my students’ attention.  Instead, I want to become a part of what they are using anyway.  I created my own classroom Instagram account: @mrsgray108

As a teacher of French and Spanish, I don’t think kids can ever get enough practice.   When my students are home at night scrolling through Instagram on their phones, I love that they can be learning a new French or Spanish word or getting some practice with vocabulary they already know.  Making a connection through Instagram brings my class closer and makes my subject more relevant.  Below are just a few ways I’ve incorporated Instagram into my classroom.

French and Spanish Word of the Week:

I like to introduce a new word about once a week.  Sometimes I choose a word that students have asked me about in class, or I chose the word based on the time of year.  For example, this year at Thanksgiving I introduced the French word for “turkey.”  It is my hope that students think of this word while they are eating their Thanksgiving dinner.  

Study Tips and Reminders:

Sometimes I post a picture of the topics on an upcoming quiz as a reminder, and other times I post resources that are available to them.  Below, I posted a screenshot of an online practice game.  Students know I am available and can ask any questions they have.

Promote Class Events and Field Trips:

I post pictures from class when students are engaged in something interesting.  Posting images from class encourages a positive class image and sense of belonging.  Below, visiting students from Ecuador were running a lesson.    It will be a memory students can look back on, and the Ecuadorian students starting following our class on Instagram!

Connect Home and School:

It’s important for the students to know that I have a life outside of the classroom.  It’s also important for them to know that I think of them when I am home.  Posting to Instagram helps keep me connected to my students even when we are out of school.  

My students wrote children’s books in Spanish and French.  I wanted students to know that this assignment wasn’t just for me, their teacher, to read, but I would be sharing their stories with actual children.  Specifically, I was going to share their books with my three- and five-year-old children.  To make it more interesting, I offered extra credit to the projects my kids picked as their favorites.  It was a fun assignment, and even more fun to announce the winners on Instagram.  Below are pictures I posted of my kids reading student books.

Encourage Participation from Home:

Even better than teaching a new French or Spanish word, I love to get my students to write comments or answer questions in a foreign language.  Sometimes I offer extra credit or a sticker to the first person to answer correctly.  Below, I asked students to describe Tom Brady using a new Spanish adjective.  I also told the students how to say the words to a Disney song in French, but I asked them what the literal translation is.


Whenever I see something relevant to what we’re doing in class, I post it to my Instagram for the students to see.  When we learned that “soy” means “I am,”  I had to post a joke about it.


I post pictures of things that are relevant to French and Spanish culture.  Pictures of my travels, pictures of interesting world events, and anything about life in a foreign country is a great way to make connections.  Through Instagram, I taught my students about April Fool’s Day in France, posted pictures of it in my classroom, and even showed them a joke I saw.   I was hoping one of my students would translate it for me.

Other Ideas:
  1. Showcase student work - Take a photo or screenshot of exemplary student work to share with parents and the school.
  2. Cross promote - Make connections with other classes, teachers, and schools.
  3. Give Support - Post inspirational quotes and create or a self-esteem boost for students and the class.
  4. Check-in - Make it a place for students to post questions.  Sometimes other students have the answers, too.

If you create an individual enough hashtag, you can put all your posts in one place.  You can create a hashtag for your class, a unit you’re working on, or an entire school.  These are some hashtags I use with my students:

Compatible Photo Apps:
Sometimes I post a photo and write about it or ask questions in the comment section, but sometimes I want the picture itself to have text. These apps allow me create any visual I want:

This is only my first year using Instagram in my classroom and I’m sure I will expand it as the years go on. I have found it fun and unbelievably easy.  The great thing about Instagram is that is compatible with all your other social media platforms.  With one click you can share with your Twitter, Blogger, and Tumblr.  The feedback I have received from students has been overwhelmingly positive.

Student Perspectives:
“Since social media is such a big thing now, and almost everyone has it, it makes it an easy resource for learning and reminders.” -Owen L
“Tell them about upcoming events that are happening in school or when things are due.”- Mary B.
“Let’s students leave helpful comments for others.” -Jacob G.
“I see students engage in their learning outside of class. It also creates a school community that continues once the day is done.”- Eric G.
“Allows students to ask teacher/students for help and be able to get a quick response.”-Olivia S.
“Teachers can use IG for helpful HW hints.”-Rebecca A.

Teacher Accounts to Follow:
Following other teachers is a great way for me to know what is going on in other classrooms and to get ideas.  These teachers post everything from inspirational quotes to interesting ways to post homework for kids.


I need to thank all the teachers I follow on Instagram for some great ideas.  A special thanks goes to Julianne Mitrano for outlining great ways to use Instagram in the classroom.

About the Author:
Jennifer Gray is a French and Spanish teacher at Parker Middle School in Reading, Massachusetts.  She introduces her seventh grade students to foreign languages for the first time and she is dedicated to fostering a love of learning about other cultures and languages.  


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