Student-Generated Real-Time Word Clouds

Who doesn’t love a colorful word cloud? But what I don’t love is the time it takes to input all of the words to create one. My motto is that students should do the work in our classroom, not me. Well, I work a little, but I don’t want to do the lion’s share of the work. The person doing the work is doing the learning, so my students do the heavy lifting in our classroom. That’s why I was so excited when I discovered Mentimeter!

Mentimeter–a cloud-based interactive presentation software–is super easy to use and has a robust free version. It provides the user with several different ways to engage a class, but my absolute favorite type of question is the word cloud.

Think about a question you want to ask students and select the type of question you want to use.

Click the “word cloud” image and type your question. For example, at the start of our unit on social media, I asked my students “What words come to mind when you think of social media?” I was curious to see what words they would associate with social media.

Once you’ve created your slide, you can project it for students. It will have your question, the link to, and a six-digit code at the top. When students go to, they’ll see a window like the one below.

As they submit their words, the word cloud updates in real time on your projected slide. Words that are repeated by multiple students appear larger in the cloud to reveal areas of commonality and agreement. My students associate social media with their friends above all else. Other words that were repeated by multiple students included, socializing, memes, communication, interaction, and public.

These word clouds are a powerful strategy to generate ideas, engage the class in conversation, and facilitate an analysis of word choice and meaning. I love that I did NOT have to create it. The words are entered directly by the students without being filtered through me.

It’s worth checking out some of the other question types too. There is a limit to the number of slides you can have with the free version, but it has worked wonderfully for me!

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Station Rotation Model: Offering Optional Skill Stations

Different students have different needs, yet many classrooms are set up to provide all students with the exact same instruction and practice. If students are asked to do practice they do not need, they can become frustrated, bored, and disillusioned. Students who need additional instruction, scaffolding, and practice may not get it in a whole group lesson.

My classroom is composed of a handful of honors level students, English language learners, and several students with IEPs and 504 plans. It’s challenging to support so many students at different levels. So, I periodically offer optional “skills stations.”

Skills stations are focused on developing specific skills. Right now my students are writing their first argumentative essay in response to a Lord of the Flies prompt. I’m using the Station Rotation Model, so I have time to work directly with small groups of students in my teacher-led station. It allows me to focus on targeted instruction, modeling, real-time feedback, and skills development.

If I notice that students are struggling with passive vs. active voice or a chunk of the class needs support writing strong topic sentences, introducing their quotes, or properly citing their quotes, I will offer an optional skill station. Students who need help can get it and students who don’t need additional explanation or practice can continue writing. The optional skills stations are a simple strategy for personalizing instruction and support.

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Panel Presentations: Connect Students with a Real Audience

When I spoke at Californa’s Better Together Teachers Summit, I talked about the power of connecting students with an authentic audience online. I emphasized the role technology can play in helping teachers to get more eyes on student work and, as a result, motivate students to do their best work.

In addition to connecting students to an online audience, I also invite community members, parents, and other students into our classroom regularly. I want to provide my students with meaningful feedback, a live audience, and a fresh perspective.

I realize presenting for an actual audience is a daunting task, but it is also a crucial life skill. I want my students to practice articulating their ideas, sharing their work, and responding to questions so they are better prepared for life beyond high school.

When I send home the parent survey (via Google Form) at the start of the school year, I always ask parents if they are interested in lending their expertise and time to be on a panel or assess student work. I also ask about their availability.

I find it interesting that most teachers at the secondary level do not ask parents to come into the classroom to help out. I regularly volunteer in my children’s elementary classrooms, but I rarely have parents volunteer to come into my high school class. So, instead of waiting for an offer, I ask!

Secondary teachers are juggling so many students that it’s challenging to provide meaningful and timely feedback all by ourselves. This is where a panel of parents, community members, and other students can be extremely useful.

At the end of our design thinking project this semester, students had to present both their process and prototype to a live audience. It was interesting to see them prepare for this presentation. They were nervous. Rightly so. It is a scary experience to stand in front of adults and students they do not know and present. However, the fear of presenting was an incredible motivator.

Groups rehearsed their presentations several times for peers and one group called me over to help them improve their delivery. I asked if it was okay for me to pause their rehearsal and give them real-time feedback. Three girls simultaneously exclaimed, “Yes! That’s exactly what we need!” As they practiced, I reminded them to keep their feet planted, limit distracting movements, and track the speaker. I offered suggestions for making their presentation more specific, which they immediately incorporated. It was exciting to see them so intent on nailing their presentation.

On presentation day, my three-person teaching team provided each group with specific feedback on three separate skills. The panel also used a rubric to assess different aspects of the presentation.

Feedback from each teacher and the panel will be incorporated into their grades. I love that their final grade was a collaborative effort. It makes my life more manageable and makes the feedback more meaningful for students.

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