It is not always easy to start working with technology. I always recommend making use of simple tools to start that can be really effective. One tool I often show teachers is Answer Garden.
Answer Garden is a website where you can write up a question and Answer Garden then immediately creates a link that you can click on and right in your answers. Answer Garden then collects all the answers together and produces a word cloud of the answers. So it is a great way of collecting together all the ideas and thoughts of your students in one place. It is a brainstorming, ideas generating website that is ideal for learning vocabulary, brainstorming ideas for an essay, thinking of questions etc. It is widely used in language teaching. Let me quickly explain a couple of ways you can use this site.
Example 1 – In Class – Brainstorming Vocabulary
The teacher wants to brainstorm all the ‘objects you can find in the kitchen’. The teacher goes onto Answer Garden, writes the question ‘What words can you think of associated with the kitchen’ . The teacher then shares the link with the students. The students work in groups of 3 or 4 and think of as many words associated with the kitchen as possible. Just one student in each group needs access to a device and that student inputs the answers from their group. After just 2 or 3 minutes a word cloud is produced where all the ideas of the whole class are all shared in one big word cloud. The teacher can then check any spelling mistakes and clarify any of the vocabulary.
I like this activity since it is the students that generate all the vocabulary. You only need to have one device for each group ( phone, computer tablet) and it is very quick. It is important too to use the word cloud and that the teacher makes sure the students understand all the words and corrects any spelling mistakes. A nice idea when you are staring a new topic for example.
Example 2 – At home – Preparing for an essay
The teacher wants to prepare the students for an essay on ‘What can we do to improve the environment?’ The teacher creates a word cloud with the question ‘What can we do to improve the environment?’ The teacher shares the link with the class and asks the students that for homework they contribute at least 2 answers to the question ( you are not limited to one answer when you use Answer Garden, you can add multiple answers to the same question). In the next lesson the teacher projects the word cloud onto the screen and focuses on a few spelling mistakes and clarifies a few points. The teacher then asks the students to work in groups and choose the best 3 answers from the word cloud. After the teacher asks the students to give their feedback on what answers they like best and why. Finally the teacher tells the students to use the word cloud to write an essay titled ‘What can we do to improve the environment?’
I like this activity because the teacher is the only one who needs technology in the class. The students contribute to the word cloud at home by answering the question. In the class the teacher can project the word cloud onto the screen. The teacher then uses the word cloud by asking the students to choose the best 3 answers from the word cloud. It is important that the teacher and students do something with the word cloud. Finally the students can use the word cloud to help them think of ideas for their essay.
Example 3 – The class competition
This is a fun way of using Answer Garden. The teacher creates and an Answer Garden with the question ‘Image you were going to interview Donald Trump: What questions would you ask him.’ The teacher puts the students into groups and each student has to think of at least 4 short questions, each group needs one student to input the answers ( note the questions are limited to 40 characters which is just about right). All the questions are now in the Word Cloud. The teacher projects the word cloud onto the board and quickly checks the grammar and spelling of the questions. The teacher then chooses one student to be Donald Trump. The students ask ‘Donald Trump’ the questions in the word cloud.
Really quick and easy to do. The students produce the questions and again the teacher can quickly check the grammar and spelling. What is important here is that the students then use the questions in the activity where one student in the class pretends to be Donald Trump.
Here is an example from the Donald Trump activity ( not Answer Garden does not use capital letters all the questions will come out in lower case)
To quickly learn to use Answer Garden, you can watch this video:
NILE associate trainer ( Norwich Institute for Language Education)
Times Higher Outstanding Initiative in ICT
British Council ELTons award for technology
University of Westminster Excellence in Teaching and Learning