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Online Chat: Ideas for Classroom Use

Web-based chat platforms have been around for years, but are gaining a new foothold in classrooms as educators look for ways to incorporate technology into the curriculum. Capitalizing on students’ fascination with texting and other digital communication, well-implemented electronic chats can support their critical thinking, in addition to building knowledge through “social constructivism.”

chatThe immediacy of the technology gives students a direct connection with the instructor as well as classmates. Web chats promote real-time collaboration and discussion that can lead to deeper processing of class material.

Integrating this technology does, however, require intentional planning on the part of the teacher. Preparation should include establishing rules of online etiquette and a process for orderly turn-taking, so that everyone gets a chance to participate. Sources for etiquette rules that can be adapted for the classroom include and Chat Avenue.

In addition, teachers have a responsibility to ensure students’ safety. This means using secure platforms (not viewable by the public) and discussing the issue of chatroom safety both within and outside of school. Sources for safety guidelines include ProtectKids, ConnectSafely and TeenHelp.

Teachers may want to try free chat platforms such as,, and Many of these do not require registration, and all are secure, in that only invited individuals may participate in the chat. Educators interested in safely connecting with other students around the globe might try participating in organized projects via a chat/sharing platform such as

To effectively use these tools, students must have access to the Internet. That means a trip to the computer lab. It is possible to take advantage of chat tools via mobile devices or tablets, if your classroom is so equipped. If lab time is tough to come by and mobile tech has not yet reached your school, use of chat rooms for class collaboration can be assigned as homework (assuming all students have home Internet access). The teacher should be available during off hours to monitor the activity.

EducationWorld reviewed one platform,, which allows users to create chat rooms for group discussions. Users simply supply their first name or a nickname, the topic they’d like to discuss, and the email addresses of those they’d like to invite to the discussion. One click later they are in their private chat room waiting for invitees to arrive. (The room is assigned a unique URL to which only invitees have access.)

While Chatzy’s auto-invite system proved unreliable (requiring a manual send of the chatroom URL to invitees), the platform did offer a save/print feature that produced a transcript of the chat for later use.

Tools such as Chatzy are great anytime students need to brainstorm a list of ideas or items, or reflect upon an experience such as a field trip or project-based learning experience. Following are some additional specific ways in which they can be used in the classroom.

Make the most of video time
Whether you’re showing students the film adaptation of a novel you’re reading in class, or having them attend a webinar, students will be more apt to pay attention and process what they’re seeing/hearing if you provide focus questions and then let them discuss those questions via online chat while the video is playing. If you need more time or can’t play the video in the computer lab, have them take notes while watching and then do an online chat the following day. You may want to break the class into separate chat groups so that group members have more opportunity to participate. Or, you may want to assign particular focus questions to particular groups.

Examples of focus questions include:

While you’re watching…

  • Serve as an “expert commentator” on…
  • Share your reaction to (or opinion about)…
  • Note three things that are memorable or surprising, and discuss…
  • Answer the following trivia questions…
  • Gather support for your argument and debate one of the following positions…
  • Share key quotes that sum up the topic of…
  • Define the following terms mentioned in the video…

Enable student critique
Asking students to evaluate a piece of writing is a great way to stimulate critical thinking. A newspaper article on a world event, a blog post from a respected expert on a topic, a poem, a piece of anonymous student writing from a past class, a “bad” passage written by the teacher to illustrate common shortcomings in a particular type of creative writing…almost anything can serve as fodder for discussion. Give students an evaluation rubric or questions to consider while preparing their critique. Then moderate the discussion by introducing the rubric points or questions one by one and assigning particular students or groups of students to address particular points. Have students refer to the recorded chat and summarize lessons learned that they can apply to their own writing.

Teach grammar, painlessly
Divide students into groups or teams. Prepare a list of sentences that contain common grammar errors (misplaced modifiers, split infinitives, etc.), then shares the sentences one at a time in the chat room.  Each team takes a turn at rewriting a sentence to fix the error. Have students refer to the recorded chat and point out the name of each error as well as how it was fixed. If desired, have teams compete against each other for a prize.

Invite a virtual guest speaker
Provide a guest speaker experience without leaving the classroom. Arrange for an expert on a topic, or perhaps someone who has experienced history firsthand (a veteran, etc.), to attend a chat at a designated time. Have students prepare questions for the person ahead of time. After screening/approving the questions and removing duplicates, the teacher should moderate and monitor the chat to ensure smooth flow and appropriate student participation. To extend the lesson, have student refer to the recorded chat and summarize what they learned from the speaker, perhaps noting how their perceptions changed as a result of the chat event, or what they learned as a result of classmates’ questions.

Article by Jason Tomaszewski, Associate Editor
Education World        
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