by Jennifer Robb
Collaboration is an essential skill for students to learn and exercise, both in and out of the classroom. Activities that require students to work in partners or small groups are fantastic for strengthening collaborative problem-solving and communication skills, but what about when you want the entire class to work together? Some days, initiating whole-group discussions can be a challenge: students are tired, uncomfortable speaking in front of the class, or just don’t want to be the first to speak. Other days, students are so engaged in the task or excited to share that they end up talking over one another, and fantastic ideas get lost in the process. Either way, I recently stumbled across this awesome web-based tool that can help!
AnswerGarden is an online feedback platform that allows multiple users to simultaneously provide brief responses (20 – 40 characters) to a provided question or brainstorming prompt. With each entry, users can see their responses added to their group’s collectively-generated word cloud. Frequently-entered responses will grow in size, allowing teachers and students to spot trends in understanding. The resulting word cloud can then be used to spark further discussion, sparing students the anxiety with having to contribute the “first idea”. This tool can be used for brainstorming, to check students’ understanding, to identify key vocabulary, as a “word wall” for primary grades, polling, and many other applications!
Even better than its versatility is the site’s ease of use. To create an AnswerGarden, simply go to the site and click on the plus sign (+) in the upper right-hand corner – no account needed! Just type in the topic or question you wish to ask students, tinker with the optional settings, and you’re good to go! Once your Garden is created, provide students with the link and they can contribute immediately. The website is entirely free, although the developers accept tips through PayPal if users wish to contribute.