Teaching in the 21st Century

Traci GardnerTraci Gardner, known as "tengrrl" on most networks, writes lesson plans, classroom resources, and professional development materials for English language arts and college composition teachers. She is the author of Designing Writing Assignments, a contributing editor to the NCTE INBOX Blog, and the editor of Engaging Media-Savvy Students Topical Resource Kit.

Paper.li in the Classroom: Alternatives and Activities

posted: 4.26.11 by Traci Gardner

In last week’s post, I talked about Paper.li, a Web site that can make an online newspaper out of Twitter updates. Since then I’ve found a some similar resources that I’ll mention, and then I’ll share some suggestions for using these programs in the classroom.

Alternatives to Paper.li

I prefer using Paper.li. It produces the cleanest online newspaper from Twitter updates and is the only option that arranges the updates into categories. It’s not perfect, as I discussed last week, but to me it seems like the best option.

As an alternative, however, consider The Tweeted Times, which also creates an online paper from Twitter posts. It updates papers hourly, so the content focuses on the latest updates and breaking news. At the same time, the hourly changes make it harder to use in the classroom since the document is constantly in flux. There are only archives of the top news stories, not all stories (which Paper.li includes), so it’s harder to have a touchstone issue that all students will have read.

PostPost creates a newspaper layout from your Facebook news posts (no Twitter posts). The content is personalized to your friends on Facebook, so it isn’t a reasonable alternative for the classroom. Everyone’s issue would be different. Flipboard and Broadfeed, iPad applications that create similar “social magazines,” have the same problem.

Activities for Sharing Students’ Updates

Paper.li gathers and organizes information from Twitter updates. Specifically, it focuses on updates that include links to Web pages, videos, and other embedded media. In the classroom, then, Paper.li works well in situations when students are gathering information to share with the class (or small groups) or publishing work online for everyone to read. Once students find something to share with the class, they include the details and a link in a Twitter update, and Paper.li does the rest.

Let’s consider some examples. Say you’re using one of the ideas Barclay Barrios shares for Teaching the Disaster in Japan. For homework, you could ask students to find an article online that connects to the readings from the class text. Have students share links to their articles on Twitter, and collect the links in a Paper.li edition.

In the same way, after discussing Jack Solomon’s Official Heroes, Outlaw Heroes, and . . . Charlie Sheen!? ask students to find an account of a hero online and share the links. You’ll have a class edition of Paper.li full of different depictions of heroes that you can discuss, classify, and analyze.

You can also use this technique to share students’ own writing. Students can post any artifact online and share the link on Twitter—anything from freewriting on possible topics to rough drafts. Likewise, if students have composed images, recordings, or videos, they can share links to that work as well. Paper.li can gather all their links into a class document that everyone can access easily.

No matter what kind of links you want students to share, the setup and management for the process is the same. Naturally students need to have Twitter accounts and have to know how to post updates. You then have two easy ways to collect their updates in a Paper.li edition: use a Twitter list, or use specific hashtags.

The first option is to create a Twitter list on your own Twitter account that includes all the Twitter accounts of the students. This technique is similar to what I used to create The Writing Centers Daily. I used the Writing Center list I maintain for @BedfordBits. Your list would include the usernames of the students. You’d then create a Paper.li newspaper that followed that list of students. There’s more work in setting up this system, and the newspaper would include everything students post about. It’s likely there would be some off-topic material included.

The second option is to choose a specific hashtag for the class to use. Choose something unique and relatively short. You might use something like the departmental abbreviation for the course, your initials and the time the course meets, or the topic of the course. This technique is similar to what I used to create the Computers & Writing Conference News, which gathers updates that include the conference hashtag. This option is easy to set up. All you need to do is search Twitter to make sure your hashtag isn’t already being used. Even better, it gives students more control over the updates that they share. Only the updates that they tag with the hashtag will show up in the class paper. The possible shortcoming is that someone else may use the hashtag and irrelevant information from someone outside the class may show up in the paper.


Paper.li can collect a lot of information in a single document that you can use as the reference point for class discussions. Rather than having to search out all the relevant links, Paper.li does the work for you. In a way, your Paper.li newspaper can become a sort of table of contents for class sessions.

Because Paper.li is a computer-generated document, however, remember that it will make mistakes. The developers have not released the details on how Paper.li chooses and sorts Twitter updates, so there’s no way to ensure that every issue will include every update that it should. Do not assume that a student hasn’t completed an assignment just because Paper.li does not include any links to her work. Be sure to ask students to point out links that Paper.li misses to ensure everyone’s work is included.

It’s not a perfect tool, but Paper.li offers a new way to engage students by organizing the messy stream of Twitter updates into a familiar genre. Further, the dated archives that Paper.li creates make it easier to return to content during the term than the alternative of searching through the long stream of updates. It’s definitely worth trying.

Tell me what you think of Paper.li in the comments, and if you have suggestions for other online tools for me to review, please let me know!

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Categories: Teaching with Technology
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3 Responses to “Paper.li in the Classroom: Alternatives and Activities”

  1. Holly Pappas. Bristol Comm. College Says:

    Have you tried Zite (iPad app)? It creates a personalized magazine based on a google reader account. (I just checked the description in App store, and it will sync to Twitter account as well, or you can select general subjects of interest.) It links not just to blogs but also to articles, news, videos, etc. I haven’t played with it a lot, but was very impressed with what the online content it found, and it’s got a nice look/feel to it.

  2. Susan Carter Morgan Says:

    I am using Scoop.it to collect posts, tweets, images, and videos I want to organize and share. Very easy to use and gives me lots of options.

  3. Traci Gardner Says:

    Thanks for the additional suggestions. I haven’t tried Zite, Holly, since I don’t have an iPad. It would certainly be an option if enough students had iPads, but I wonder how many classes that would be. Since Paper.li is web-based, it’s somewhat platform-neutral.

    Susan, I like the clean look of Scoop.it. I’ll have to play with it some more. It’s great that there are so many of these tools coming available!

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