Snapchat 101 for teachers — What you need to know

Ed Tech

Ed Tech | Thursday, April 7, 2016

Snapchat 101 for teachers — What you need to know


People all over have formed lots opinions about Snapchat based on very little information. Here’s what you need to know to be informed. (Image by ElasticComputeFarm via / CC0)

In my first conversation about Snapchat with another educator, I didn’t have a very open mind.

“Let’s Snapchat each other to talk about it more!” she said. I politely declined.

I didn’t want anything to do with it. Snapchat had gained a reputation as a place where kids go to swap inappropriate pictures.

Today, it still has that reputation with many in the education world.

Recently, I signed up for a Snapchat account to share fun stuff with family, and I’ve learned a lot about the features and how they work.

Before, I thought nothing productive — or safe — could come from using Snapchat in the education world.

Now, I’m changing my mind.

No digital tool is inherently evil, and Snapchat is no exception. If someone wants to be naughty online, they’ll find a way.

Just because a student can abuse something doesn’t mean we should try to ban it from schools altogether.

We’ve seen people making copies of their rear ends (and worse) with photocopiers, but we haven’t banned those from schools.

It’s possible for students and educators to send inappropriate text messages (and, according to the news, they do). But reputable services like Remind (a free, safe platform for texting/messaging students and parents) connect more than a million teachers with millions of students and parents safely.

And, if you think about it, pencils are extremely dangerous with their sharp points. Their abuse could be fatal. They’re available in pretty much every K-12 classroom all over the world.

Remember — the education world balked at Facebook when it came out, too. There was just too much negative that they could open themselves up to. Now, schools and districts everywhere (including the tiny rural Indiana public school my kids attend) use Facebook to connect with families. Why? Because it’s safe and because that’s where everyone spends a lot of time.

Snapchat 101 for Teachers

Snapchat is an app-based social network. It lets users send pictures and videos to each other.

You can add extra elements to your pictures and videos:

  • Lines of text
  • Doodling with different colors
  • Emoticons (emojis) (i.e. smiley faces, different kinds of faces and icons)
  • Lenses that add masks to your face

When snaps (images/videos) are sent to others, you determine how long they can be viewed (up to 10 seconds). Once they’ve been viewed, they can be replayed once, but that’s it … they can’t be accessed again. (More on that later.)

You can gather your snaps (images/videos) in stories. Stories are a single place to gather multiple snaps … think of them as a photo album where you can collect what you share. Stories are viewable for 24 hours by people that follow you.

If you’d like more details on how the app works, there’s a nice, thorough post on its features here.

Snapchat can be used safely by teachers and schools. (More on that later, too.) And with 100 million daily users watching more than 7 billion videos per day, there’s a great chance that teenage students — and their family members — are there.

In fact, Snapchat surpassed Facebook, Instagram and others as the No. 1 social media app that users age 12-24 say they use (Edison Research … see page 60). 

As I’ve learned about Snapchat, here are the facts I wish someone would have told me when I first learned about it. (Whether you intend to use it or not, these are good things to know if you interact with students who use it.)

Regarding the friend/follower relationship …

  • Snapchat friends can be a one-way relationship. With a personal Facebook account, becoming friends is mutual — both parties must agree to it. With Snapchat, each side makes his/her own decision. Person A could follow Person B without Person B following Person A.
  • Because it can be a one-way relationship, a teacher/class/school/district Snapchat account doesn’t have to follow students/parents/anyone else back. And if I were starting an account for a teacher/class/school/district, that’s what I’d suggest as the policy. (If you have another take on it, I’d LOVE to hear it in the comments.)
  • When someone follows you Snapchat, he/she can’t send you anything until you accept him/her as a friend. Basically, until you acccept that friend request, there’s a barrier between you and them. They can see your content, but you can’t see any of theirs.

Regarding “disappearing photos” …

  • Snapchat images and videos can be viewed for up to 10 seconds. They can be replayed once. But after that, they “disappear” … as in, they can’t be accessed through the Snapchat app again.
  • It is possible to use your phone/device to take a screenshot of an image or video from Snapchat before it “disappears.” When that happens, the person who sent the image or video gets a notification that it’s been “screenshotted” (Snapchat’s term).
  • Note that I’ve been using quotes to say “disappear”. Because images and videos on Snapchat don’t really disappear instantly. They can be kept on Snapchat’s databases and even shared with business partners. It’s part of their Terms of Service. (But if we’re using Snapchat for educational purposes, there’s not much reason for us to worry about this.)

Also, the Snapchat Terms of Service say that users must be at least 13 years old to have an account.

More on Snapchat in education

With all of that said, this brings up some questions:

How can teachers and schools utilize Snapchat for educational purposes or to improve relationships with students? Check out this post — 15 ways to use Snapchat in classes and schools.

Should schools and school districts be on Snapchat? Should we leave it to the kids, or should we have a presence there? If we have a presence there, what should it be?

And, above all, how could we do all of this safely?

I’m planning on exploring all of that in an upcoming post.

For now, I’d love to hear all of your thoughts, concerns and uses of Snapchat. I’d love for these posts to become home to a vibrant discussion on this very popular, very talked-about digital tool. I’m still learning about it, too.

For another educator’s take, A.J. Juliani wrote a great blog post on Snapchat, too, with some different points than I’ve made: The Complete Guide to Snapchat for Teachers and Parents.

Snapchat is the elephant in the room for lots of educators. Lots of opinions have been formed based on very little information. Through education and dialogue, we’ll know more and can make better-informed decisions.

Whether we do anything about it, Snapchat is a force in the world right now — and students will be using it whether we educate ourselves about it or not.

For notifications of new Ditch That Textbook content and helpful links:

Interested in having Matt present at your event or school? Contact him by e-mail!

Matt is scheduled to present at the following upcoming events:

[getnoticed-event-table scope=”upcoming” max=”15″ expanding=”false”]


FREE teaching ideas and templates in your inbox every week!
Subscribe to Ditch That Textbook
Love this? Don’t forget to share
  • Kathryn Brown says:

    Help clear up my confusion please. I am brand new with Snapchat and find it fun. I’ve reread your relationship list several times but still need help. I shared my code with my class. Several added me already. I create a snap and want to send it to just those students in the class via a group. I can’t – they have to be my friend. But clearly not everyone wants the reminder, vocab review, announcement, etc. So how do I keep it one way (a school policy thing) but connect with specific students? Maybe I can’t …. Any advice?

  • […] For other information about Snapchat, check out Matt Miller’s post, Snapchat 101 […]

  • […] you’re interested in learning more about Snapchat, I suggest checking out Matt Miller’s Snapchat 101 for teachers— what you need to know or just downloading the app and asking a student to give you a quick tutorial. Meet them where they […]

  • nan sumner says:

    Having my own children use snap chat. I understand all that you have stated . I am an avid social media user for education and I strongly promote educators using SM for professional development and home school connections. Knowing that snapchat is in the forefront, I am confused about the benefits for an educator. The piece that I am stuck on is the “10 sec then it goes away.” Just can’t understand how that would benefit my professional development or parents wanting to see their kids in action. I like to replay, study, reflect so the going away piece doesn’t work for me. Once I can visualize the benefits, then I will embrace and take on the challenge. Thank you for your info!

    • Matt Miller says:

      Hi Nan,

      Thanks for jumping into the conversation. I think there are several ways educators can benefit:

      — Sharing quick bite-sized pieces of content (fun/interesting/throught-provoking)
      — Sharing reminders
      — Creating snaps to add to a story about content-related stuff that students might find interesting

      I created this post about ways to use Snapchat in the school setting:

      If you think of how long you look at a photo or video on Facebook or other social media, it’s not usually much longer than 10 seconds anyway. And I wouldn’t share anything too detailed or difficult to grasp in a snap.

      I think it’s all about experimenting and using tools that find students/parents/etc. where they are. If it doesn’t work for you, no worries … there are lots of ways to connect to students and their families.

  • […] Snapchat 101 for teachers — What you need to know | Ditch That Textbook […]

  • Thanks for this very helpful and informative post. I have been “anti-Snapchat” personally just because I feel like I don’t need another social media site to suck my time. But, I know lots and lots of kids are using it and it would be great if schools could harness some of this into using a platform for “good.” Thanks!

  • Claire Chalcraft says:

    Fantastic post – thanks!
    It’s no good us “oldies” (I speak for myself!) being ostriches about things we don’t understand – I absolutely agree with you about the advantages and importance of learning about how our children and students are communicating and using tech tools. I had done something similar with learning about snapchat and before that Facebook, Instagram etc but have not documented it eloquently as you have done.

    My own two teenagers use snapchat for sharing funny nonsense mostly, some of which is hilarious and many a time screens are shown around family and friends with thumb still pressed to screen (delays the snap disappearing). My observations, from an albeit small sample, are that snapchat posts are more often than not quickly produced and do not tend to emphasise a “perfect” filtered image, there seem to be plenty of images showing kids laughing at themselves looking silly caught in an uflattering moment. Self-depreciation and humour can be awkward and difficult for some adolescents to achieve, but it’s empowering and positive for them when it happens.

    Will share your post and promote it at school with my colleagues who have yet to discover the joys of Twitter and online connections – thanks again.
    @CMCin Switz

  • Margaret says:

    Love your blog n ideas. So much to share, and I’m glad you are so giving of information. Looking forward to seing you in the chicagoland area. Missed the ICE conference. Will follow your schedule.

  • Kari says:

    As a Spanish teacher I encourage students to see the purpose for language use outside the classroom. I created a Snapchat account just for school purposes and then had the kids caption in Spanish their picture and snap me for some participation credit. Many have a lot of fun with it and others don’t use it at all. I see it as real world application just like any other tech, most kids will connect but not all. Overall it has been useful and fun to see the kids try something unique and out of their comfort zone!!:)

  • I have been on Snapchat since the beginning of the school year. When I talked to my students about how they wanted me to share what was going on in our class and they wanted me to use snapchat. I got the releases I needed to parents and started using it. Honestly, it was a fail. I didn’t get enough followers to make it worth it and I felt the need to pretake pictures and couldn’t get past the feeling of wanting to post them later. I do really like snapchat. I am still struggling with seeing its potential for me as an educator and me as a teacher sharing with parents and students. Now that I have been on it a while I do see its potential and how I could use it. It will most certainly be an app to consider for next year and one I am going to keep trying and trying. I just know it has amazing potential for educators and classrooms!

  • […] Snapchat 101 for teachers — What you need to know #edchat #socialmedia @jmattmiller… […]

  • Amber says:

    I appreciate your take on Snapchat in schools. To some degree I agree that schools and teachers should steer into the skid of technology. Being a Geography teacher, I have actually used Snapchat in my classroom by creating projects for my students to do. The stories that Snapchat puts on, that show different countries, I had my students do their own version. They created 10 second videos or took pictures of famous landmarks, activities that people in other countries participate in, famous people from those countries, different styles of food, etc. They then put it all together in a “story” and presented it to the rest of the class.
    Finding other ideas though would be great, and continue to keep the students engaged.

  • Nathan says:

    Great post! We (educators) often balk at Social Media with students because of “all the bad things” that happen. We also sit baffled why our students would rather stare at their phone then learn. Remind is great for connecting with parents (students…meh). Why not Snap what’s for homework or upcoming projects? We all know a student couldn’t handle having an unopened snap on their profile. Let’s meet our students where they are in the social media world and show the world that Social Media isn’t all about inappropriate content.

  • Kari Catanzaro says:

    Thank you for explaining Snapchat to me. As a mother of teens, I’ve been VERY against this site for the inappropriate uses you mentioned. But this post has me thinking of ways we could use it for good and how it actually works. I’m going to continue to follow this discussion, both as an educator who uses FB and Remind with my class and as a mother of teens.

  • >