10 education word cloud activities that get students talking

College lecture hall

Word clouds can be more than static images you prepare ahead of class. They can be dynamic, dancing pictures whose words capture students’ ideas and emotions live, in the moment.

The education word cloud examples below were created using Poll Everywhere, a live classroom response system. Students respond to your Poll Everywhere questions and activities using their phones. Their responses appear in real time in animal graphs, charts, and word clouds for all to see.

Some of the examples below come from the many teachers and educators who share their education word cloud activities on Twitter. Join the conversation by posting your own word clouds and tagging @PollEverywhere.

You can also click to copy any of these word cloud activities to your Poll Everywhere account. Don’t have an account? Sign up for free today.

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1. Icebreakers kickstart student engagement

The first week of class is a great time to dive in with an icebreaker question. Word clouds get the job done better than any other Poll Everywhere activity type. Make the question as meaningful or nonsensical as you like – just phrase it in such a way that it solicits a one-word response. One-word responses are easier to read in the finished word cloud. Words that students submit multiple times also grow larger than the rest. This way you can quickly see which responses were most popular.

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Poll: What is your favorite show on Netflix?

Read more: 50 icebreaker questions to kick off your next event (with pictures)

2. Encourage sincerity to form new connections

Help students connect with each other over questions that bring up shared experiences, opinions, and emotions. Seeing how their peers respond gives students a chance to relate to one another in class.

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Use the responses as a jumping-off point to talk about the things that make students unique, and also completely normal. Invite students to elaborate on their responses. After sharing something personal in the anonymity of the word cloud, students often feel empowered to discuss personal topics out loud. You can also double down on anonymity by enabling anonymous responding for these activities.

Poll: What trait do you look for in a new friend?

3. Help students reach a consensus as a group

This is an education word cloud activity that can last the entire class period.

Open with a broad topic, perhaps: “What was the biggest contributing factor to the fall of the Roman republic?” Students posit their one-word hypotheses in the word cloud. Everyone then takes a moment to read through the results and reflect on what was said.

Next, break your students into small groups. These groups research the topic of your word cloud. Meanwhile, you either clear the activity, or create a new one asking the same question. When students finish with research, ask them to submit a new response to your word cloud. Then compare and contrast the new and old results.

You can also ask students to defend their responses aloud. If any student changes their mind during this discussion, they can use the change response button in Poll Everywhere to update their response. It’s very satisfying to see a word cloud full of disparate responses reform around a few main ideas as the result of a lively debate.

Read more: The 9 best word cloud generators

4. Summarize topics to develop understanding

Challenge students to show understanding of a complex topic by summarizing it into a single word. This is an easy way to gauge familiarity with, or opinion of, a new topic. It can also be used for formative assessment as a way to reflect on the previous lecture. And because all students respond at once, you can hear from the entire room in the time it would take a few to respond aloud.

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Poll: What word to you associate with religion?

5. Build empathy by checking emotional wellness

Check in with students and learn how they are coping with the stresses of school, friends, family, and life in general. Many educators find that emotional checkups such as this help them elicit trust from students, promote empathy in the classroom, and steer class time in a more positive direction. You don’t need to solve everyone’s problems right then and there. Sometimes it’s enough just to be reminded that we all carry these feelings inside us.

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Poll: What is your top stress factor?

6. Quickly visualize brainstorming feedback

Live word clouds are an excellent scratch pad for brainstorming solutions with an entire class. Use this activity to kick off a new unit, or help students find a new approach to an old problem. Give students the ability to respond multiple times and encourage them to participate throughout the discussion. You can also choose to hide responses to any word cloud activity and only reveal them once everyone has finished. That way, students are not influenced by their peers’ responses.

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Poll: What comes to mind when you think of digital citizenship?

Read more: Make PowerPoint games the audience plays on their phones

7. Ease into deep discussions for genuine responses

There’s a phenomenon you will discover if you regularly use live polling in the classroom.

It’s called “snowballing vulnerability.” The Poll Everywhere presenter who coined the term conducts ground-breaking workshops that train students and employees to have effective conversations about conflict-laden topics, such as global warming and LGBTQ issues.

Here’s how it works: Kick off your conversation with a word cloud asking students how they felt about a past failure. When students see others responding honestly about failure, they tend to embrace the anonymity of the word cloud and speak out voluntarily. It’s a powerful moment.

The next time you’re anticipating a difficult discussion with your students, open with a word cloud, then move to a longer open-response question, and keep building out from there. Students are more likely to speak openly and honestly when you ease them into these conversations.

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Poll: Sum up the election in one word

8. Pinpoint a theme to focus class discussion

Bring instant focus to class discussions by asking students to narrow the theme of a chapter, essay, speech, article, book, or poem down to a single word. This is a great way to help students prepare to write their own essays and research papers. It also makes for lively class discussions as students defend their one-word theme submissions.

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Poll: What did you learn from the article?

Read more: How Slack is creating a more inclusive and engaged classroom

9. Check for gaps in comprehension

Credit for this education word cloud activity goes to @NSmithScholars who uses them to get feedback from her students on what they learned that week. She calls it Flashback Friday, and it gives students a chance to show off what they know, while also signaling information they may have missed and needs additional review.

Poll: What did you learn this week?

10. Visualize student reactions en-masse

This can elicit a very emotional response in the right circumstances.

Health education teacher Andrew Milne used a live word cloud to wrap up a student-to-student Pride presentation. Students in the audience were able to send one-word reactions to the students on the LGBTQ panel – with great success. It was an empowering moment for those on the panel to see words such as “brave”, “honest”, and “inspiring” grow larger and larger on the screen.

Poll: How would you describe the PRIDE presentation?

With a live word cloud from Poll Everywhere, you can capture a snapshot of student reactions to almost anything: new concepts, current events, special presentations, and more. Create your first live word cloud activity today.