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What Would Oprah Say? Digital Literacy and Concise Writing

oprah tweetingSubjects

--World History

-Language Arts
--Communication Skills
--Communication Strategies
--Production and Distribution of Writing

-21st-Century Skills
--Ethical Technology Use



Brief Description

Students combine their love of social media with their love of celebrities by writing mock “tweets” about outrageous characters and events in history.


Students will

  • Consider the perspectives of celebrities
  • Learn about surprising historical events
  • Review rules for appropriate social media use
  • Write concisely in a manner appropriate for the social-media (microblogging) platform Twitter
  • Review and discuss their work


History, celebrities, Twitter, tweets, social media, writing, digital literacy

Materials Needed

  • Computers with word processing capabilities (and if desired, access to online collaborative writing tools)
  • (If computers/Internet are not available) Paper, pencils and pens

Lesson Plan

Taking historical events and putting them in the context of our current social media-dominated and information-saturated world offers an engaging writing opportunity for students.


For safety reasons, using the actual Twitter platform is not recommended in the classroom. Teachers should, however, be familiar with Twitter and how it is used.

Consider the following resources:

A Guide to Understanding Twitter Lingo (including abbreviations and slang)
Using Twitter for Professional Development
An Educator’s Guide to Twitter

Explain the Assignment

Explain to students that they will write mock “tweets” from the perspective of celebrities. Playing the role of their chosen (or assigned) celebrity, students will imagine that one or more outrageous historical events (described later in this lesson plan) has happened in modern times. Students will then respond to the historical figure/event using tweets.

Here are a few options for commentary to get students started:

  • Offering advice, a warning or encouragement to the historical figure
  • Providing humorous (but appropriate) commentary on the figure/event
  • Calling for others (i.e., his/her Twitter followers) to respond in some way to the historical event
  • Playing the role of the historical figure and providing a reply tweet to the celebrity tweet of a classmate

Student tweets should be very concise. Decide whether this means limited to 140 characters (as messages actually are on Twitter) or whether there is some other word or character limit you’d like students to use. Also, decide whether you will require complete, grammatically correct sentences, or whether you will permit students to use common Twitter abbreviations, “shorthand” and/or slang. All tweets should follow rules of appropriate social media use.

Review a few simple rules:

  • Nothing on Twitter is private. Don’t say anything you wouldn’t want everyone to see.
  • Keep language and humor appropriate. A potential college admissions officer or future employer may be watching.
  • Be kind to others. Never harass, insult or gossip. If you wouldn’t say it to the person’s face, don’t tweet it.
  • If in doubt for any reason, don’t tweet it.

For a deeper discussion, see the EducationWorld resources:

Lesson Plan Booster: Digital Literacy and Online Ethics
Lesson Plan Booster: Think Before You Hit “Send”
Tweets Get Student Expelled: A Cautionary Tale

Introduce Outrageous Historical Events

Background on three high-interest historical events appears below, but you may wish to substitute other historical events--or even interesting current events--that you plan to cover as part of the regular curriculum.

William Walker Invades…Because He Can

William Walker is considered by many historians to be the greatest filibuster who ever lived. For those not familiar with 19th-century military-speak, a filibuster is someone who invades a foreign country without the authorization or support of any government, making him a literal one-man army.

In 1853, at the age of 28, Walker decided that Mexico could use a new leader. After his requests to control a sizeable portion of the country were rejected, he implemented a scheme worthy of a fictional supervillain. He gathered a small contingent of followers in San Francisco and marched to the southern border, where he set up what would be known as the Republic of Sonora.

As the months passed, Walker’s new republic grew to the point that nearly one-third of Mexico was under his control. It was then that the Mexican government sent in the army to kick Walker out. He promptly fled back to the U.S. where he was arrested, tried and…acquitted. Because the locals saw him as something of a folk hero, the jury let him off the hook after only eight minutes of deliberation.

Rejuvenated with a sense of invulnerability, Walker decided that he still wanted an entire country all to himself. He rounded up 60 guys and marched into Nicaragua. After only 12 months he was able to take over the entire country and declare himself president. Once in office, he proceeded to revoke anti-slavery laws, declared war on Costa Rica and renamed the country “Walkeragua.” Even after all of this, U.S. President Franklin Pierce officially recognized Walker’s government as the legitimate regime.

Seemingly in command and living like a king, Walker thought all was well. During all of his invading and taking over, however, he managed to anger Cornelius Vanderbilt by forbidding the Commodore’s ships from sailing in Walkeragua’s waters. This was a considerable blow to Vanderbilt’s business, so he sent in his own army to oust Walker. The Commodore, having rounded up a coalition consisting of every Central American government, forcibly removed Walker from power. Walker was later captured by the Royal British Navy and executed for his crimes in Honduras.

A Group of Businessmen Plan a Coup Against FDR

Known as the Business Plot of 1933, a group of wealthy businessmen that allegedly included the heads of Chase Bank, GM, Goodyear, Standard Oil, the DuPont family and Senator Prescott Bush tried to recruit Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler to lead a military coup against President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and install a fascist dictatorship in the United States.

The plan never got very far, as the man tapped to lead the hostile military takeover of the United States was an ardent supporter of FDR. Butler exposed the plot to a congressional committee in 1934. Everyone he accused of being a conspirator denied it, and none of them was brought up on criminal charges. The House McCormack-Dickstein Committee did, however, acknowledge the existence of the conspiracy.

Diocletian Makes the Current U.S. Economy Look Like Shangri-La

In the fourth century A.D., The Roman Empire was a shell of its former self. The new emperor Diocletian ascended to the throne following a series of wars, inheriting a wrecked economy and an empire on the edge of destruction.

Taking aim at the empire’s failing economy, Diocletian came up with a fiscal plan that runs counter to every other fiscal plan devised since. He ordered that all Roman currency be stamped with values less than those of the actual metal making up the coin.

Take a moment to think about that. It would be like saying a coin made out of $6 worth of gold was only worth $3 because you stamped a big $3 symbol on it. If you had enough of these coins, you could simply melt them down and sell the gold for twice the coins’ face value.

As if this plan weren’t enough, Diocletian also instituted the Edict on Maximum Prices. This plan created an arbitrary price ceiling for every good bought or sold in the empire. For example, it wouldn’t matter that it cost a blacksmith $20 to make a sword; by law, he could only sell it for $15.

If it weren’t for the fact that enormous portions of the empire simply refused to follow the new laws, Rome would have collapsed much sooner than it eventually did. Diocletian eventually made the only sound decision of his reign by becoming the first emperor to voluntarily resign.

Introduce Celebrity Options

NOTE: If celebrities are not a good fit for your class, you might substitute notable historical or current figures of your choice (anyone from George Washington to Genghis Kahn to Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor).

Options for celebrity commentators (some real and some fictional characters) include the following. Because the celebrities and TV shows that are popular with teens may change rapidly, teachers are encouraged to substitute the most recent individuals, or perhaps even ones who are well-known locally. You also can ask students to suggest celebrities.

  • President Barack Obama
  • Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow
  • Simon Cowell from “X Factor”
  • Oprah Winfrey
  • The character Sheldon from “The Big Bang Theory”
  • Tina Fey from “Saturday Night Live”
  • Crime interview show host Nancy Grace
  • Matt Lauer (co-anchor of NBC’s “The Today Show”)
  • Country-pop musician Taylor Swift
  • Civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton

If you feel students are mature and responsible enough to handle a few “edgier” personalities, you might consider the following. Keep in mind that these celebrities, and their shows or music, may involve inappropriate language or material. Students should be reminded to use appropriate language in all tweets.

  • The character Snooki from “Jersey Shore”
  • The character Stewie from “Family Guy”
  • The character Serena from “Gossip Girl”
  • The character Sue Sylvester from “Glee”
  • Cee Lo Green (rap star and judge on “The Voice”)
  • Flamboyant recording artist Lady Gaga
  • Jon Stewart, host of “The Daily Show”

Start the Activity

If computers are not available, students can write tweets on paper (teachers should provide a word limit, since characters will be hard to count).

If computers are available, students can use a word processing program to write tweets and check their character/word counts. If they have Internet access, students might use classroom-safe wikis or an online chat/brainstorming tool such as,, or to write their tweets (this would allow others to easily respond to their tweets, creating an interactive environment). These interactive tools also would allow for a peer pairing activity where one student tweets from the perspective of the celebrity and the other tweets in response, from the perspective of the historical figure.

Students may play multiple celebrity roles and/or respond to multiple historical events. Teachers should assign a total number of celebrities, tweets and historical events depending on available technology tools and the amount of class time they wish to devote to this activity.

Once students are finished writing and editing (and peer reviewing, if desired), let them share and discuss their tweets with the large group, explaining how the tweets reflect the perspective of the celebrity and the context of the historical event.


Evaluate (or have classmates evaluate) student celebrity commentary in terms of the following:

  • Writing quality
  • Creativity
  • Understanding the context of historical events
  • Taking into account the perspective of the celebrity “tweeter”
  • Appropriate use of social media (ethics, courtesy, etc.)

Submitted By

Jason Tomaszewski, EducationWorld Associate Editor

National Standards
NSS-WH.5-12.6 Era 6: The Emergence of the First Global Age, 1450-1770
NSS-WH.5-12.7 Era 7: An Age of Revolutions, 1750-1914
NSS-WH.5-12.8 Era 8: A Half-Century of Crisis and Achievement, 1900-1945

Language Arts
Grades K-12
NL-ENG.K-12.4  Communication Skills: Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
NL-ENG.K-12.5  Communication Strategies: Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.

Common Core State Standards
Language Arts - Production and Distribution of Writing
Grades 9-10
W.9-10.4.  Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
W.9-10.5.  Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience.
W.9-10.6.  Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products, taking advantage of technology’s capacity to link to other information and to display information flexibly and dynamically.

AASL Standards for the 21st Century Learner
3. Share knowledge and participate ethically and productively as members of our democratic society.
3.1.4  Use technology and other information tools to organize and display knowledge and understanding in ways that others can view, use, and assess.
3.1.6  Use information and technology ethically and responsibly.


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