Simple guide to twitter

I have been on Twitter for nearly five years now, tweeted several thousand times and have over a hundred real followers. At the behest of a Facebook friend, here is a step by step guide.

1. Usernames

All usernames on twitter start with the @ symbol and have no spaces in them. You need to pick a name that is relatively memorable, relatively connected to you and not too long. They allow people to be written to in a reply:

@singinghedgehog thanks for the ideas. Will use in class tomorrow.

or written about in a mention:

great ideas for tomorrow’s lesson from @singinghedgehog

2. Hashtags

Hashtags start with the # symbol and also have no spaces. They serve two purposes. Firstly, as emphasis or relevance for your comment:

Starving but nothing in the fridge except olives and Prosecco #firstworldproblems

So you can’t believe the exit poll! #eatyourhat

Secondly, and more usefully, it allows you to contribute to a group activity such as a teacher discussion or to a sporting/media event such as Test Match Special or Eurovision.

Need worksheet on intro to algebra #mathchat

Bell out cheaply again. Bring back Pietersen! #bbctms

We should get a Polish plumber to sing for us then we might get some points #eurovision

You can search by hashtag or watch one so that you can either check up on other people’s comments or watch a live stream.

3. Following

If you follow someone, you will see all of their tweets; this is not always a good thing. The more people you follow, the fuller your timeline will be. After a while you may need to cull those who are more preoccupied with navel gazing than saying anything useful! Some people are worth following because they retweet a lot of things you are interested in, saving you the bother of trawling through all the drivel from other users.


After a while you will get followers. To start with these may well be friends from the real world but over time you will collect like-minded people. You will also get spam merchants who need clearing out from time to time. These are generally obvious as they have very few followers but follow hundreds. Their tweets are often nonsense if they are not obviously selling something. Quite a few of these are ladies in little clothing! To get rid of them, simply click on them in your followers list and block or report for spam as necessary; they will then disappear.

5. Tweeting

When you are ready to tweet┬áto the world, you have but 140 characters in which to do it! You can include links to websites, which will normally be shortened for you by the software. You can also attach pictures or other media, which also take up some of your character allowance, and/or add a hashtag. All of your normal tweets will be seen by your followers. If you include someone’s username in your tweet, they and your followers will see it.

6. Replies, retweets and favourites

If you want to do more than just read a particular tweet you have a number of different ways to respond to it. Firstly, you can favourite it. This will make it easier for you to find the tweet again in the future and also flags up to the author that someone has favourited their post. Secondly, you can retweet it. This copies the post to your timeline so that your followers will see it; again, the author of the post gets a notification. Some software will allow you to comment within the retweet to make a ‘quote retweet’; this and other modifications can cause your response to lose its ‘official’ retweeted status and just become a tweet or reply. Finally you can reply to it. This will obviously go back to the author, will be visible as a reply to their tweet and will also appear in the timeline of people who follow both you and the author. A more nuanced response is where you add a character, usually a fullstop, in front of your reply. This will ensure that all of your followers see the tweet as well as the recipient. However this should not be overused as half a conversation in your timeline is very irritating.

7. Twitter…what’s it for?

The above is all well and good you might say, but what is the point? You can get out of Twitter what you want from it, with a little care. If you want to follow all the ins and outs of certain celebrities you can find all of their doings from both official and knowledgeable unofficial sources. If you have particular hobby interests it is a very good way of sharing knowledge and information. Nature groups use it very well for updates especially of rare or unusual species. There are a number of professions using it for shared best practice; some teachers describe it as a global staffroom. Or you and your friends can just keep up with each other without having to resort to Facebook or Snapchat.

8. So what did Twitter ever do for you?

I have got help from the Director of the Science Museum whilst going round, on a Saturday. I have had conversations with authors Philip Pullman and S J Parris and with the mathematician and broadcaster Marcus de Sautoy. I have shared the first national sighting that year of a Green Veined White and discussed the discovery of new sites for both bees and butterflies with nationally recognised experts. I have answered problems posed by mathematicians, and then blogged about them, getting responses from the original authors. I have found new ideas for my classroom which have enhanced my teaching. I have read jokes, spoofs, articles, blogs and much more besides which have enriched my life and have on occasions challenged my view of the world. I would have had very few of these experiences without being on Twitter.

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