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Snapchat is probably the most popular social media app among those under 30. What distinguishes it from other such apps is that it allows users to add cartoon-like images and text to their photos and videos. While this playful interaction between users may seem like the antithesis of serious learning, Tara Martin (2017) found a way to channel student interest in sharing annotated images toward an educational purpose by creating what she calls a BookSnap. Instead of snapping selfies, a student makes a BookSnap by taking a photo of a passage from a book, article, or other source and adding images and text to interpret and reflect on what they read (Figure 1). These can be emotions, thoughts, or feelings provoked by their reading.

Two images of BookSnaps. The left image includes call-out quotations and the right image one. Both images are decked out with user Bitmojis.
Figure 1. Examples of BookSnaps

What advantages does a BookSnap have over a traditional paper report? For one, learning retention. According to Schwartz (2015), “When ideas and related concepts can be encapsulated in an image, the brain remembers the information associated with that image.” Think, for instance, of how famous images encapsulate the meaning of historical events. The image of a sailor kissing his girlfriend on a dock captures the joy the United States felt at the end of World War II. Similarly, those who have seen the documentary March of the Penguins (dir. Luc Jacquet, 2005) likely remember the image of the frozen egg, which captures the hardships faced by penguins trying to survive and reproduce in their inhospitable environment—the movie’s underlying theme. Expressing a passage as an image will thus help students retain its meaning.

Moreover, BookSnaps help students think critically about their reading by developing personal connections to the text and interpreting it in creative ways. After all, Snapchat images and videos are interpretations of student’s experiences. Instead of simply taking a photo of a concert, the overlays add the user’s feelings and thoughts about the event. The choice of overlay engages the user in a creative expression of their experience. We want students to internalize what they read in our courses, and providing them with a means of expressing their interpretations will encourage that process. While students tend to think of papers as merely a means of regurgitating what they read and “giving the instructor what they want,” asking students to create BookSnaps recasts the entire exercise as an opportunity for personal expression.

Using BookSnaps academically

For independent reading assignments, students are likely to engage in their reading by creating BookSnap summaries for each page or section they read. Students can embed the individual BookSnaps in a Google Slide presentation submitted to their teacher or submit the image within a discussion board post on a learning management system. BookSnaps are most commonly used for textbook or article comprehension, but they are equally useful for other purposes. In English courses, students may use a BookSnap to identify plot components, figurative language, or main ideas. In math courses, students can take a picture of their calculations, annotate their explanations, or ask questions. In history courses, students can take a picture of a timeline and identify turning points or key events. Science educators may use BookSnaps to have their students summarize vocabulary or provide evidence supporting their hypotheses, while art students may take a picture of a painting or sculpture and provide their interpretation or identify the genre. The possibilities are divers.

Creating a BookSnap

Snapchat is most commonly used to create a BookSnap. But educators and students are also using Google Slides, Google Drawings, Seesaw, Pic Collage, Book Creator, or Buncee to create their BookSnaps. The first step of creating a BookSnap is to take a picture of the book, page, article, painting, or other artifact the student wants to annotate. Students then use text, font, or color features to type the annotation. Most annotations include the content’s title, its creator’s name, and hashtags (#s). The third step is to decorate the original image by adding meaningful images, stickers, or Bitmojis to enhance the annotation. The final step is to download and save the final product. The steps vary slightly depending on the platform used.

For more information on how to use BookSnaps in education, take a look at Tara Martin’s website. Please also feel free to find and share ideas about uses of BookSnap via the hashtag #BookSnaps on Twitter. Experiment with BookSnaps in your teaching.


Martin, T. (2017, August 14). #Booksnaps Snapchat in education. Retrieved from

Schwartz, K. (2015, July 15). Making learning visible: Doodling helps memories stick. Retrieved from

Jennie Carr, PhD, is an associate professor of education and elementary education program coordinator at Bridgewater College.