Handmade Wordle

Article by Barton Keeler
On the first day of school I greet every student at the door, welcoming them, shaking their hand and asking them what they like to do. This takes several minutes so I need to have a meaningful activity posted on the board for the students to work on while I finish my greetings.

This year I had the students create a Wordle by hand. Initially, I had the students think of 5 words that best describe themselves. I posted an example based on myself on the whiteboard. It contained vague, simple statements like: Teacher, Runner, Writer and some words that students were not familiar with like: Classicist and Calvinist. Actually I just borrowed what I had written on my Twitter profile. My thinking was that this would provide a visual example of what I wanted them to do. It worked ok the first day (we are on a block schedule so I see the same students every other day). But the results were unimaginative, generic and overall homogenous. For example, nearly every student said they were into sports and music. When I introduced my example there were very few follow up questions. But, it was something for them to do on their own so that I could greet kids and build community.

Alice Keeler challenged my thinking on the wordle. “What if,” she said “we have the students write down 20 things instead of 5?” I was reluctant because several students hadn’t finished and I really wasn’t that concerned with the assignment because I was “building community.” I agreed nevertheless and we proceeded to create another wordle based on me. When we pushed past the previous 5 or 6 word requirement, something amazing happened. We started to dig a bit deeper and found things that really make me unique. We added words like: Tough Mudder, World of Warcraft and Collecting. “See, here are three more points of contact that will help you connect with your students,” she added.

Then it hit me. I was trying to build community in the classroom but I wasn’t including myself nor was I challenging the kids to discover what truly makes them unique.

The next day when I introduced my wordle example I had quite a few follow up questions that inspired other questions and really got to share some geeky aspects of my personality that an average person wouldn’t assume. I showed them my lunch pail collection and how I got into World of Warcraft etc. Then, when I had the students work on their own wordle I found the results much more interesting. Students were able to come up with 20 things in the same amount of time as I gave the students a day before to come up with 5. I found out I have a female student who likes to restore classic cars (she’s currently restoring a ‘79 Camaro), another student likes Grunge and another likes classic horror films (and hates all the remakes).

My three big takeaways from my adjustments from day 1 to day two are:

1. You can’t build community in your classroom while excluding yourself. The more you reveal about yourself the greater chance students will form a connection to you.

2. Students will rise to your expectations. I have probably parrot this notion in years past but it was refreshing to be reminded of it on my second day.

3. The more students share about themselves the greater the points of connection with each other and the teacher. I discovered many more interesting things about my students on day two.

Community is about building connections. The more connections you have the more cohesive the community.

Click Here for post on Barton Keeler’s rules for building community.

imgres Guest Post by Barton Keeler:
Barton is an English and History teacher at Caruthers High School. His classroom has 1:1 Chromebooks and he threw out the desks to create more collaborative work spaces and a student centered classroom. He tweets @bartonkeeler