Sunday, June 5, 2016

Ideas and Tools to Give Everyone a Voice

Whether during a class, meeting, presentation, or workshop it can be at times extremely difficult to give everyone a voice.  I remember as a teacher many years ago asking my students to raise their hands to respond to a question and even during Jeopardy-style review games had groups collaborate on their response. Undoubtedly this left many students out of the formative process. Later in my career, I was able to get my hands on a class set of dry erase whiteboards so that each student had a chance to respond. While this was definitely an improvement, issues still remained as to the depth of responses each student could provide as well as actively engaging the shyest students in the class.  Even as I moved to a leadership position the same challenge persisted during faculty meetings. Giving everyone a voice seemed like an insurmountable challenge.

As I have transitioned to a major role as a presenter, I initially experienced the same struggles listed above. Never could I have imagined giving twenty different educators a voice during a presentation let alone thousands.  Well, technology has changed all that and regardless of your specific role you too can increase authentic engagement with your audience.  The best part is the variety of tools out there that are easy to use, allow for a diversity of answers, and are free (most that is). These collaborative tools can be used to:

  • Make thinking and learning visible
  • Check for understanding
  • Review prior learning
  • Close lessons
  • Provide the means for others to pose questions 
  • Allow large masses to openly respond and interact with each other
  • Craft multimedia responses
  • Collect perception data
  • Backchannel a class or event
  • Openly reflect and discuss
  • Extend learning
  • Brainstorm

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In my opinion, the most beneficial aspects of available web-based technology are allowing anyone to improve formative assessment, feedback, and active engagement. There is really no excuse not to honor the voice of your respective audience, whether they are students or adults.  Even in situations where technology might be tight, cooperative groups can be utilized to reflect and then share out.  Below is a list of some of my favorite free tools (unless noted) that I integrate during my presentations along with a short description:

  • TodaysMeet – Create your own room to where people can respond to a question or reflect in 140 characters. This is a great tool to use for a backchannel.
  • Tozzl – Take your backchannel to a new level! People can respond via text, videos, images, and documents. You can even integrate a Twitter hash tag.
  • AnswerGarden – My new favorite tool! Use it for real time audience participation, online brainstorming and classroom feedback.  Responses can only be 20 or 40 characters.
  • Mentimeter – Move over Poll Everywhere. Mentimeter is a great tool that allows you to poll your audience in a variety of ways. You can even create a presentation that has multiple polls.
  • Tackk – Collaborate, discuss, and create all on one interactive platform. Over 300 apps can be embedded making it a great platform for app smashing. Be sure to check out Tackk in the classroom.
  • Padlet – A long time favorite of mine, which allows participants to respond using virtual Post-It notes. The beauty of this tool is that within each board responses can be text, video, images, or attached documents.
  • Lino – An online web sticky note service that can be used to post memos, to-do lists, ideas, and photos anywhere on an online web canvas that is similar to Padlet
  • Kahoot – A fan favorite of educators around the world. It is a free game-based learning platform that not only gives everyone a voice, but also provides a fun way to do it.
  • ProConIt – Gather and organize opinions on any topic while engaging your audience. This is a great tool to formatively evaluate just about anything.
  • FlipGrid (NOT free) – You need to pay a little for this one, but oh is it worth it. Create grids of questions or topics using text or video and share your questions with whomever you like. Your audience then responds with recorded videos.
The ten tools listed above will allow you to empower your respective audience by giving them a voice and sometimes a choice as to how they want to respond. There are so many other tools out there that can be used in powerful ways to enhance learning and gather meaningful feedback.  Let’s use the power of social media to crowd source even more examples. Please feel free to list other tools with a short description in the comments section below.


  1. Eric, this list is so cool. What I love is that I have only heard of a few of these tools. The more we encounter the unfamiliar the more we can grow. I look forward to trying these out. Do you have one that you would recommend starting with or one to use while moderating a Twitter Chat or an Edcamp discussion? Thanks for any advice.

    1. Thanks Jon! Tozzl might be the best as you can incorporate a Twitter hash tag, but I am unsure if any of these tools are ideal for that. As far as an Edcamp discussion I would go with Tackk.

  2. Dear Mr Sheninger:
    This is such a great list!!
    I´m proud I´ve worked with Lino and Padlet for many years despite the fact we don´t have computers in the classrooms. Students work from home and that is a plus, for them and for me, some of them are interested in the grades but many just like it!. I am definitely going to try AnswerGarden which looks so cool! Thanks for all you share, always! Kind regards from Buenos Aires, Argentina.

  3. Very interesting list of tools! Thanks for sharing them!

  4. This is a great list, especially since giving students and parents a clear voice is so important to their success. Voice doesn't just have to be about talking in the classroom, but giving your students other ways to express themselves.

  5. It is a great list! Checked out lino, already see uses for this. Thought I would mention my students loved Quizlet Live this year, really increases participation in reviewing key terms. Bore no more!

  6. Quizizz is another awesome tool for conducting student-paced formative assessments. Works for in-class and for homework assignments too!