ArticlesJuly 2024

A Multiliteracies Approach to TikTok in the Classroom

By Blair Richards, Michigan State University, Master of Arts in Foreign Language Teaching

Blair Richards


TikTok, a social media platform that began in 2016, connects users through short videos, usually with catchy music, funny stories, or short news clips. It separates itself from Instagram or Facebook because many of the people do not personally know the people behind the accounts that they follow. Even so, many TikTok videos offer windows into the lives of others that can inspire, warn, or inform. TikTok enjoys a popularity among my students that I have never witnessed before. I see their language, dress choices, music interests, and much more, being influenced by this app. This is all the more reason to relate it to what we do in class!

As part of a project where I explored a genre unfamiliar to me in a Literacy course through Michigan State University’s Master of Arts in Foreign Language Teaching (MAFLT) program, I transformed a traditional unit on instructional texts where students give instructions to classmates via in-class presentation into one where they instead create their own TikTok style instructional videos with conventions of that genre using a multiliteracies approach. More details on the unit itself with materials will be provided below.

In this project I advocate for a multiliteracies approach. Why a multiliteracies approach? In their book Literacies in Language Education, Paesani & Menke (2023) sum up the power of this approach, “Within a literacies orientation, communication about texts is closely tied to critical thinking: it enables increasingly complex and diverse thinking and language use as well as increased agency and empathy” (p. 6-7). I wondered, “Have my students taken a critical look at different TikTok videos and asked themselves why and in what way they matter?” How can taking a closer look at this genre help them create their own social futures within this genre? With the rise of social media use among adolescents, now is an important time to help students build digital literacy skills to grow their empathy and openness to others as Paesani & Menke (2023) suggest a multiliteracies approach can do. 

Below, you will find the steps I took to make this unit come to life.

1. Familiarize Myself with the Genre

I have taught high school students since 2009 and in that time have noticed more and more the ways that social media shapes their culture. From trending dances to how students speak, social media has become an unavoidable topic in my classroom. What if instead of denying or downplaying its existence, I instead harnessed its power to engage students in a multiliteracies approach to instructional texts? I have traditionally taught instructional texts with cooking videos or discussing chores, but this brought little excitement from students and a distinct lack of opportunities to build intercultural awareness. But how could I confidently bring social media into my classroom as someone who didn’t grow up in the digital landscape that my students were born into? 

How did I remedy this? I spent a lot of time on TikTok. This wasn’t a difficult task for me because I already enjoy TikTok. This time, however, I took a closer look at what makes a TikTok video a TikTok video (and a successful one at that). I used hashtags such as #commentfaire (#howto), #tutorial, #français to help me find videos that related to my unit and I organized them by most viewed. What I noticed was that successful TikTok videos shared many conventions like voiceovers, informal language, smooth transitions, and a first-person point of view. I highly recommend spending time on TikTok to feel comfortable with the platform before working with it in class. 

Within the genre of TikTok there are many different trends and types of videos. For example, I chose instructional videos, but there are also ‘day in the life’ videos, ‘news story and informational’ videos, or ‘fit check’ videos where people describe what they’re wearing (great for a clothing unit!). Those are just a few! As you explore the platform yourself, find the type of video you might like to highlight. Perhaps you teach about sports and decide to focus on highlight reels of players from the target culture(s). Or maybe you would like to focus on tourism to different areas where the target language is spoken. Whatever you choose, know that each genre within TikTok plays with conventions differently to get messages across. It can be overwhelming that there are so many different genres of videos and how quickly they evolve, but it can also be exciting! I haven’t found a better way to immerse myself in my students’ culture than with TikTok. 

2. Do It Myself

Picture 1 - My Black-Eyed Peas TikTok, in French - a person with a fork saying Bon appetit!
Picture 1 – My Black-Eyed Peas TikTok, in French

Using what I learned in my familiarization stage, I embarked on a 4-hour journey to create a 2-minute instructional video on a cultural product important to me. I started by taking all the video I would need and input it all into TikTok at the same time after filming. I was surprised to find that editing within the app itself was an intuitive process that required a “How do I…” search only a few times. For me, never having created any TikTok before, this gave me an assurance that students who had never created one before might also find the success that I did.

Picture 2 - The first-person point of view of my Black-eyed Peas TikTok - someone in a grocery store with stuff in a grocery cart and a thumbs up sign
Picture 2 – The first-person point of view of my Black-Eyed Peas TikTok

There are many tutorials on how to create a TikTok video if you’re less familiar with the app. This TikTok tutorial was helpful to me because it showed exactly what your phone looks like while creating a TikTok with someone explaining the steps beside it. A quick introduction, certainly, but one that gets straight to the point.

You can check out the whole video here:

3. Design Unit

You will find below how I decided to outline the unit and student-facing materials. Yes, most students know TikTok well, but they aren’t familiar with the features of a TikTok video that distinguish it from other media, such as a YouTube video. I want them to see here that the length, style, music choice, and text typical of TikTok videos serve a purpose to engage and entertain in a way that other multimedia genres do not. I use the questions below to help guide them in the creation stage to put what they’ve learned in the experience, analyze, and conceptualize stages into their final product. With a different genre or social media platform these questions might change, but what’s important is that each step asks students to think critically about how the TikTok style video that they create meets the goals of the genre identified earlier in the unit.  The reflection at the end acts as a way for students to use metacognition to solidify their learning from the unit.

In the experience portion I chose a video on making Shea butter in Mali for its relevance to my target language, French, its adherence to the conventions I noted above, and representation of French outside of France.

@pelokabuttermali BEURRE DE KARITE MADE IN MALI #mali #bamako #africa #beurredekarité #sheabutter #VLOG #traditional #skincare ♬ son original – Peloka

You could choose any sort of video for this and I recommend searching TikTok for your target language by using a hashtag with your language, for me that was #francais (#french). For French teachers the Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA) has an excellent repository of TikTok videos sorted by length, topic, and country.

Experience 1. Activate prior knowledge on how and where students get information to do something new.

2. Interpret a TikTok video on the making of Shea butter in Mali (

Analyze 1. Read a passage from the video transcription and analyze language for register.

2. Justify categorizing the text as formal or informal with examples from the text.

Conceptualize 1. Rewrite the text with a different register and describe how the text changes pragmatically.
Create 1. Create a TikTok using conventions of the genre experienced, analyzed, and conceptualized in the first three steps.
Reflect 1. How does this video reflect the culture of the person?

2. How does the choice of TikTok affect the message and audience perspective?

4. Define Parameters for Creation: Student Instructions, Peer Review, and Reflection

For this portion students will need access to a smartphone or tablet with the TikTok app downloaded and internet access. They will need an account for TikTok, but if they do not have one there are other apps, such as Instagram Reels or CapCut, that can allow for similar editing outside of TikTok. Here is a tutorial for more information on how to use CapCut.

To protect student privacy, I do not ask students to publish this video to their TikTok accounts. Instead, they download their videos to share with me and their classmates, something they can do before having to publish.

If you are interested in checking out the full assignment, you can access the Google doc here. 

Challenges and Opportunities

Using TikTok is not without its challenges. A polarizing app among adults because of its ties with China and the scrolling addiction it can cause, it’s currently the source of legal debates that threaten its availability in the United States. While TikTok has driven the genre of short, highly-edited videos, other tools that I mentioned above, such as CapCut and Instagram allow for creating videos similar in genre.

Despite its inherent challenges,connecting something like TikTok and social media to classroom goals not only works to build digital literacy, it’s just simply fun. It shows students that the target language exists in spaces that they inhabit outside of the classroom which could give them the motivation to seek out more opportunities and interact on their own with the language on social media.


Paesani, K., & Menke, M. R. (2023). Literacies in language education: A guide for teachers and teacher educators. Georgetown University Press.

Peloka [@pelokabuttermali]. (2023, 7-26) Beurre de karite made in Mali [TikTok video]. TikTok. 

2 thoughts on “A Multiliteracies Approach to TikTok in the Classroom

  • Excellent article and ideas!

  • Bravo! Une (des multiples) choses en toi que j’admire est que tu continues à élargir tes connaissances pour toujours mieux faire ce que tu fais déjà si bien.


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