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Speaking Their Language: Hashtags

by Cindy Rich
 | May 26, 2015

#Hashtags are everywhere! They are strategically placed within television programs, promoted in advertisements, and hyped at conferences and sporting events. Recently I have seen them used for weddings and the birth of a child. For those doubting any sustainability, Merriam-Webster added hashtag to the dictionary in 2014.

A hashtag adds context to a tweet of 140 characters or less. It can identify a post as part of a larger discussion, even if we weren’t invited to join. We find encouragement by aligning our words with others who are like-minded and find freedom in the creation of an original hashtag. Hashtags can support development of skills such as vocabulary, identification of main and supporting ideas, author purpose, and sourcing. (Some teachers may have a very hard time ignoring the missing spaces between words.)

Students may not admit it, but choosing a hashtag is a thoughtful process—or it should be. The properly chosen word or phrase makes an immediate impression, in case a reader simply doesn’t have time to read all 140 characters. Much like a title, author intent is revealed immediately after the pound sign, #. Most students have some level of understanding about the use of hashtags. They can explain why they select those that they use and offer insight into why they believe some are better than others. The selection of a hashtag (to post or follow) is a thoughtful process using vocabulary, prior knowledge, key ideas, and intent. (Sounds academic, but that’s our secret.)

Hashtags and key vocabulary, or #hashtagvocab

Based on an online search, I found the following key points to consider when choosing a hashtag. If this concept is still a bit foreign to you, try replacing the term “hashtag” with “search terms,” ”key words,” “primary sources,” “informational texts,” or a term that applies to your discipline and feels more familiar.

For my #hashtag guidelines, I will answer in 140 characters, not counting spaces or hashtags. Sorry Twitter, my rules here.

What #hashtags already exist? What’s already out there? Predictable hashtags may lead to tweets introducing facts, key players, places, and causes. Follow a tweet trail and think outside the box. #mainidea #characters #setting #vocabulary #multipletexts

What #hashtag should I use? Study hashtags with the 5Ws. Then, with audience and purpose in mind, consider how the hashtag impacts your message. Do you join a train of thought or go a new direction? #authorintent #bias #relationships #explicit/implicit

Should I create a new hashtag? Hashtags lead to info, but your message is unique. You combine content knowledge, expressive vocabulary, and unique components or purpose that makes it yours. Own it! #evidence #evaluate #authorpurpose

Cindy Rich, PhD, directs the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources program and teaches Literacy in the Secondary Education Content Areas in the College of Education and Professional Studies at Eastern Illinois University (EIU). Prior to that she taught at the high school level and was director of the EIU Reading Center.


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