Online audience participation sites to initiate ideas for writing

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ELC Roundtable 2014: Innovations in developing writers beyond the language classroom


Unfortunately this post (and my little workshop) is not about this, but technology could be something that really does develop writing beyond the classroom. I’m thinking of how the mobile phone, with even the most basic model being able to take a picture, can personalise learning, and with most models now having voice recording, a video function, and geo tagging, they can also have their own content, rather than all getting the same content. How can that be used to take language learning outside the classroom? Look at this talk from Nicky Hockly – teaching with mobile devices: choices and challenges (posted about here). Some ideas – send students outside into town, taking pictures about a topic, interviewing people, sharing on a course blog or wiki. This does not have to be solely about writing; indeed I would hope that it isn’t solely about writing  – it would be a multiple skills lesson – with perhaps writing as the final activity summarising everything. Nicky Hockly had this with a class in the UK, with overseas students coming to study English for a month or so. She had a course book to use and a syllabus to follow, but also a lot of freedom – as long as that basic topic / language / grammar point is covered, she has the freedom to do what she wants. How could I fit this with my own classes / subjects – over 2000 student, 100+ classes, around 50 different teachers – what you can do as an individual teacher is very different to what you can do with a large subject.  One idea would be a multi-media essay – still based on the topics we do – such as technology and education – with students not only writing a text based essay with citations, but also including pictures / videos / audio recordings which they have created themselves. Maybe we also have to re-think what the student essay should entail?


So, back on track to what I actually did, and which will probably form the basis of the workshop.

We give students a topic, and we want them to write an essay on this topic. What happens next? I’ve had the experience of students being stumped for ideas, and looking blankly at me.

A classic solution is to get students to work in pairs, or small groups, to generate ideas. The teachers then walks around ‘placing’ ideas. The assumption is that collaboration has a positive effect of idea generation. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

So, we have the students working in groups. What do we do then? How do we share the ideas? One approach would be for students to write their ideas on the black or white board. But then we are faced with the problem about what to do with all this information on the board, and we have the issues of student shyness as they stand at the board while their mind goes blank, or illegible writing or spelling mistakes.

One solution is to take a photo of whatever is written  on the board, and then share that with the class. So there are always solutions, but is there a better way? Can technology help us more?


  1. Collaboration can have a positive effect on the number of ideas that can be generated.
  2. Technology can be used as a tool to gather and share these ideas.
  3. The ideas are only the start of the writing process (they can start in the classroom and then be taken beyond the classroom)
  4. Writing should be fun.

Our connected generation

Our students are connected like never before. My experience – close to 100% of students come to class with a smart phone – a phone that can access the internet. Others bring multiple devices – they always have the internet connected phone; they also bring a tablet – an ipad or an android device; they might also bring a laptop. So in a class of 20, it’s quite possible to have 25-30 devices that can connect to the Internet. Therefore, don’t worry about  students not having a device to go online.  If necessary get them to share. Do you need to go into a computer lab? I’d avoid them. Get them to use their own devices.

Technological ideas

Me, technology and social media.

In my bio I write about using my students as guinea pigs, and that some tools are used once, and then never again, while others become part of my life. Have the tools below become part of my life? Not yet, but I do believe they are worth sharing. Tools that have become part of my life – Google Drive and Dropbox. Maybe it’s risky, but my information lives in the cloud. Tools which I have tried but don’t use? It’s hard to remember – but I remember various sites for ‘report cards’ and  Class Dojo is another. Maybe because they are more aimed at primary and secondary students, but they don’t seem to work for me.

My technical requirements: I have to be able to learn how to use a new tool within 5 minutes. Can students use it easily? How can I use it in my teaching?

So, the two sites I am using are Polleverywhere and Padlet.


Tag lines

“Live Audience Participation”

“Poll Everywhere lets you engage your audience or class anywhere in real time”

Key facts

    • You need to create an account: free and easy to do so.
    • Students do not need to create account
    • You can only have one poll ‘live’ at one time?
    • Three poll choices
      • Open ended (answers can be shown in 4 different ways: Text Wall; Word Cloud; Cluster; Ticker
      • Multiple choice
      • Image click
    • Up to 40 participants in free version
    • Students respond on (??? Can be decided by you)


  • Voting on a choice
  • Brainstorming ideas
  • Discussions
  • Others?

Share poll / results

  • Can post the link on eLearn for poll or results
  • Can email link
  • Use in a ppt
  • Embed option * I cannot get that function to work

QR Codes (Find out more about them there)

Tag lines

“Paper for the web”

“We give you a blank wall. You put anything you want on it, anywhere. Simple, yet powerful.”

Key facts

  • You need to create an account – free and easy to do so.
  • Students do not need to create account
  • You can have many pages ‘live’ at one time
  • “There is no limit to the number of people that can post at the same time” * but a page can get crowded
  • Students post on the address chosen by you
  • Options for different levels of privacy


  • Brainstorming ideas
  • Discussions
  • Resource page
  • Others?

Share page / results

  • Can post the link on LMS for poll or results
  • Can email link
  • Export as image and this can be added to a blog or forum post – image is live and will change if ‘wall’ is changed
  • Embed option – can embed in many blogs

Are these technological tools going to turn students into better writers?

  • Tool
  • Start of the process
  • Combination of many factors