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One Word Entry Into Class Discussion

March 1, 2021 • Katalin Wargo

Many of us have been there. You’re trying to facilitate a discussion over Zoom, you pose a question, you wait the appropriately awkward amount of time and …crickets. Perhaps students aren’t sure what they want to say — it may be that they are tired — or they could just be shy. Whatever the issue, discussion falls flat when students don’t engage.

In the education courses I teach, I need students to read and respond to various pedagogical case studies. My goal is that students read the text and dig deeply into how the ideas espoused in the texts can transfer to their classroom practice.

I find giving students an open invitation to participate en masse right from the start of a discussion sets the stage for increased participation in rich and meaningful conversation.

I use two strategies to engage students right from the start: Zoom Chat Brain Dump and Word Cloud.

Zoom Chat Brain Dump
I ask students to type one word in the chat and to wait to hit enter until I say go. Example questions are:

• What is one word you would use to describe your reaction to this text?
• What is one word you would use to describe how this applies to your own teaching?
• What is one word that describes a topic you want to dig into more deeply during our discussion of the reading?

I wait a few moments for all students to type their responses, and then I say go. The result is a list of words that students have generated. I glance at these words to determine patterns or ideas upon which I ask students to elaborate. These patterns often become the themes that form the foundation for the rest of our discussion.

Word Cloud
This activity is similar to the Brain Dump, in that students can participate by typing in one word as a response. Poll Everywhere has an easy to use word cloud feature that allows me to create activities on the spot. Here are some example word cloud questions from other disciplines:

• What is one word you would use to describe your reaction to this painting?
• What is one word you would use to describe the tragic hero’s actions in this section of the text?
• Using one word, describe how you might attempt solving this problem.

Students’ words that have been entered multiple times appear larger in the cloud which allows me to identify themes that act as a springboard into deeper discussion. Sometimes, I select words that appear less frequently and ask students to elaborate to elicit less common perspectives.

Providing these kinds of low stakes opportunities to enter a discussion helps to warm my students up for discussion. It opens a door and gently invites my students into the learning experience while communicating that I value every single voice.


© 2021 Katalin Wargo. The text of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 International License.

Meet the Author

Katalin Wargo

STLI Instructional Design Manager

Katalin is the Instructional Design Manager at the W&M Studio for Teaching & Learning Innovation. Katalin is responsible for the design and delivery of faculty professional learning opportunities related to course design and development of in-person, blended, and online courses.