Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube, Oh My! 4 Tools for Picting in the Classroom

column | Technology Tips

Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube, Oh My! 4 Tools for Picting in the Classroom

By Chrissy Romano-Arrabito (Columnist)     Nov 8, 2017

Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube, Oh My! 4 Tools for Picting in the Classroom

We’ve all heard it before: “A picture is worth a thousand words.” That famous idiom (or is it a cliche?) first appeared in a 1911 newspaper and has been widely used since. In today’s society, however, the phrase has taken on a whole new meaning. Using images instead of text to convey ideas—known as “picting”—is becoming the norm among today’s digital-first students.

Picting by the Numbers

Snapchat, a mobile app that allows users to capture video and pictures that disappear after a few seconds, has over 173 million daily users and the average number of Snaps per day hovers around 2.5 billion. Instagram, a social networking app for sharing photos and videos, counts more than 400 million daily users. YouTube, the most popular video site on the Web today, has over 5 billion videos. Approximately three out of every four tweens and teens are on some type of social media platform these days. In short, picting has arrived.

Is Picting a New Literacy?

Technology is changing the way we see literacy. Cathie Norris and ElliotSoloway, university professors studying how much time today’s youth spend with text-based materials vs. image-based materials, “estimate that 90 percent of K-12 classroom time in the U.S. is spent with text-based materials, and 10 percent with image-based materials; but outside the classroom, 90% is spent with image-based materials and 10 percent with text-based materials.”

A new type of literacy is emerging, but rather than embracing it, most schools are shying away.

As Kayla Delzer says in a recent EdSurge article, “social media is happening—with or without you.” Students are coming to school with an established digital footprint. They are on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat before they even step into our classrooms.

How to Use These 4 Social Media Tools

Here are four picting apps that will give your students ownership of their learning, share your classroom culture, and make your classroom more engaging.


Consider adding a Social Media Specialist or Class Photographer as a classroom job to capture memorable moments, showcase student work or tell the story of your classroom in images and post to your class accounts. You may be surprised to see what students value and want to share out with the world, as opposed to what the teacher would choose.

A fun way to put Instagram to work in the classroom is to feature a Student of the Week. Have your picting expert chronicle a week in the life of that student and post those pics at the end of the week to acknowledge them. The key is to have that special student choose the images that he or she wants to use to tell their story.

Students can take a picture of their favorite book and use hashtags and the comment feature to convince others why they should give it a read.

For the youngest learners, give them a device and send them on an ABC scavenger hunt. Have them capture images around their classroom, school or home that represent the letter of the alphabet that they are learning that week.

A student photographer at my school captures classroom moments. (Source: Chrissy Romano-Arrabito)


Challenge older students to create engaging stories using the full range of Snapchat features like filters, emojis, and the drawing tool. Stories don’t always have to be serious. Snapchat allows kids to have fun with storytelling.

A favorite activity I use with my students is reflecting on their reading by creating #BookSnaps, a way to make learning and thinking visible. Check out Tara Martin’s blog to learn the ins and outs of how to get started with this cool activity. For younger students, like my third and fourth graders, we used Google Drawings to create our #BookSnaps and then shared them on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Seesaw.

Snapchat is also perfect for students to record 10 second book reviews. Kids can record quick videos giving their recommendations on the latest book they have read.

Finally, most students are learning a world language in school. Snapchat is an easy way for kids to practice speaking. Younger students can record themselves practicing new vocabulary while older students can carry on conversations in the language they are studying with other students or the teacher to hone their speaking skills.


Most people, kids especially, are consumers of YouTube videos. Encourage students to be creators and put them in the driver’s seat to create video content instead of just watching what others have produced.

I have one student that recently discovered his Google for EDU account automatically gave him his own YouTube channel as well. He spends endless hours at home and during recess at school making videos that explain some of the more difficult math content we cover in a kid-friendly way. I recently explained to him what a screencast is and that he can also create them using Screencastify, Educreations, Explain Everything or even Seesaw and then upload to his YouTube channel. (Guess what he is probably spending his weekend doing?) Have your kids take a stab at making their own tutorial videos. What better way for kids to learn than from each other?

A similar idea is to record students leading lessons and teaching other students. These videos can be shared on the class YouTube channel or on a student’s individual channel. You have the option of making them unlisted (instead of public) if you don’t want to share them with the world. The idea here is when students go home and have to complete practice problems or study for a test, they have a kid-friendly video to watch in case they get stuck.

Roselynn Burke, a 4th grade teacher from New Castle, Delaware, is a genius when it comes to leveraging YouTube in the classroom. Her students create Book Commercials instead of writing the traditional book report, and she compiles all of them into a playlist for kids to use when looking for recommendations for their next pageturner. She is also an avid user of Twitter and on occasion people ask questions about the pictures she tweets so her kids typically respond via a YouTube video. For example, one time she tweeted her students playing a game that someone did not recognize. Her students videotaped a tutorial of how to play the game and tweeted back to that person. Talk about the power of social media!

Seesaw, The Learning Journal

Seesaw is a perfect entry point for younger learners. Going back to the idea of having a class photographer here are some things he/she can capture. Photos that show:

  • Students asking or answering an interesting question. Make sure to add a hashtag or some text to give them a shout out for their stellar contribution!
  • A student leading a lesson. I had a 4th grader teach a math lesson on multistep multiplication problems to a group who needed additional help. We made sure to capture that image and share it on Seesaw (and Twitter and Instagram) so her parents and the world could see her fine work in action!
  • Students building or creating. We routinely captures images of students “making” by using materials in our makerspace or via coding platforms like Scratch and Tinkercad.

Seesaw also has video capability so “selfies” have become a regular means of expression in my classroom. My students always have the option of how they want to show what they know. Many choose the video option, especially my struggling learners. They prefer to express themselves using video or the drawing tool.

The desired result of using social media in the classroom is to provide authentic opportunities for students to use their voice, engage in positive digital citizenship, and create connections with the real world that will engage and motivate today’s learners.

How are you using “picting” and other social media apps in your classroom?

Disclaimer: If you are concerned about the appropriateness of what will be posted or have an agreement with your school district that states students cannot post directly to class social media platforms, have a dedicated device on hand for students to take images for you to post to the class account.

I also suggest you routinely change the password to maintain security of the account if you are having students post directly from a class account.

Finally, in order to ensure that students have a voice in what is shared at the end of each day or the week spend 5 minutes posting together so students have input with regard to hashtags, text, etc. that will used alongside the images.

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