Group Discussions with NowComment

Unleash the power of introverts and host vivid discussions using NowComment, a free and easy-to-use online discussion tool with a wealth of features!

It’s no secret that one of the best ways to learn is by discussing something, and it’s certainly important that all students learn how to speak with others. However, it’s also important to remember that not all students are speakers, and that not all discussions need to be verbal.

In her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain suggests that introverts are dramatically undervalued in an education system aimed at developing extroverts. Kristen Adler, assistant professor of cultural anthropology at Antioch College writes in a blog post titled “Balancing Introversion and Extroversion in the Classroom” that threaded discussions are “extraordinarily beneficial for introverts, and otherwise quiet students–as well as for extroverts.” They allow introverts, who characteristically think (long and hard) before they speak, to articulate their thoughts without having to jump head first into a conversation without a life vest; they also require extroverts to piece together their thoughts before saying the first thing that comes to their mind.

NowComment is an awesome and free online tool to host threaded discussions of texts, pictures, and even videos so that introverts and extroverts alike can share their ideas and learn to communicate effectively. **Yes, there are many other tools available for collaborating and discussing texts online (hello, Google!), but NowComment is particularly useful for moderating and organizing online discussions.

Getting Started

When you first go to NowComment, you will need to create an account using Google or Facebook, or by creating your own login. Once you log in, you can upload documents, including Microsoft Word or Excel, PDFs, images, html texts and images, and even videos (from your computer or a website like YouTube). You can also type your own text if you prefer. Finally, there are public documents where you can search for ready-made assignments. If you make your documents public, they will also become part of the public library.


Once you have created an assignment, there are a wealth of options for moderating your discussion,  which you can see in the screenshot below.

NowComment Features.png

If you didn’t read through that screenshot (yes, I’m calling you out 😉 ), here are a few noteworthy features:

  • You can set a due date (with optional email reminder).
  • You can set a minimum number of comments that a student must post, and it will keep track (you can also set a maximum).
  • You can keep students from seeing each other’s comments until a designated time. This is great for seeing what students are able to think of on their own, before they have had a chance to read what other students have to say. This is also good for introverts, who may be dissuaded from posting their comment if they see that someone else has already shared their idea.
  • You can allow students to suggest revisions to a document. This, of course, lends itself well to editing and revising student work. Furthermore, when students suggest a revision, it requires them to fill in a field explaining why they made a particular change.
  • You can highlight text and specify which colors designate what. With each document you assign, students can publicly or privately highlight text. Anything highlighted publicly is visible to all students, and you can click on it to see a heat map showing how many students highlighted that word or section as well as what colors they highlighted it. The default highlighting colors are yellow for “important,” red for “unclear,” green for “agree,” brown for “disagree,” and blue for “like.” You can change these when you create the assignment. Students can change their private highlighting colors, which only they, along with the document administrator (you) can see.
NowComment Highlights
Public and private customizable highlighting options

Sharing Assignments

After you set your options, you can create groups to share your assignment with by importing your class roster(s). Watch this video by Heidi Weber, a 2015 PBS Learning Digital Innovator, to learn how (it’s only three minutes long, and it’s very helpful)! You can create as many groups as you like, so you can assign texts to one student, one group, one class, or all of your classes! However, take note that if you assign one document to multiple groups, all comments will show up on that document. If you want the document to only have one classes’ comments, you will need to make copies of your document to assign to individual groups. This can be done by clicking on “My Library” at the top of the page, then clicking the “More” drop-down menu next to the assignment you wish to copy. Then click “copy” and you will be able to select how many copies you would like to make.

Hosting Discussions

When your students open your assignment, they will see a screen that looks like this:

NowComment Discussion Screen.png

The default screen is in two panels, with the assignment on the left, and the commenting panel on the right. Students can make comments on individual sentences or multiple paragraphs by simply hovering over the text they wish to comment on. They can make comments on pictures or videos in the same way. When they click on a sentence or paragraph, they can immediately see any other comments made on that section. At this point, they have the option to reply to a previous comment on that section, or start a new thread if their comment is unrelated to the existing discussion.

When students post a comment, they must include a brief (255 character maximum) summary of their comment. The summary serves as a tagline, or almost like an email subject line for the student’s comment (nice opportunity to teach how to write an objective summary). Aside from the summary, the student’s full comment can be as long as they wish.

At the top of the comment panel, you can toggle whether you see full comments or just summaries. You can also sort comments by name, date, or tag. If you are grading students’ participation, this feature is a life-saver; you don’t have to dig through tons of comments to find one student’s posts.

Student and Class Blogs

If you end up using NowComment frequently, you may consider hosting a class blog, or having students create individual blogs to share and reflect on their work. Blogs are easy to set up on NowComment (there is literally a button that says “Create Class Blog” when you are in your group’s page, and  button that says “Create a Personal Blog” when you are in your main login screen). After setting up your blog, you can upload excerpts from public documents or assignments as blog posts. Simple, but effective.

Ideas for Use

Obviously, NowComment is great for any discussion-related activity, but here are some general ideas for use:

  1. Assign a close-reading passage and have students highlight and comment on diction, tone, mood, symbolism, plot structures, characterization, or other literary devices.
  2. Have students upload their writing and practice revising and editing each other’s work.
  3. Post a painting or photograph and have students complete a collaborative OPTIC analysis.
  4. Post a scene from a film or documentary and have students discuss it.
  5. Have students read and discuss a news article about a current event.
  6. Host a debate.
  7. Assign word problems and have students collaborate to solve them.
  8. Have students comment on each other’s blog posts.
  9. Assign small groups a different text or task to work with, then have each group share out.
  10. Host a seminar.

And there you have it! Now you can comment with NowComment…and no comments from the peanut gallery! Just kidding. If you have comments, please let me know!

Creating Apps with Marvel

Use Marvel to let your students design their own phone app!

Ready to ditch the boring projects? Me too, and I can’t wait to try using Marvel in my classroom! This free app for iOS and Android lets you design your own app by adding pictures and seamlessly linking them to simulate a real app–no programming skills necessary!

**Bonus: You can also open the app online if students don’t own a smartphone!

There are several ways to add photos to a project, including uploading them from your phone or computer, taking photos within the app, or even using the app’s canvas tool (much like Paint) to draw your own picture. If you prefer drawing by hand, you can also download free templates to draw your own wire-frames and simply take pictures of your finished drawings to create your app.

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Because of its versatility, I think Marvel could be a great tool for many types of students, including introverts and extraverts, sensing and intuitive students, visual-spatial, logical-mathematical, and kinesthetic learners. After all, apps can be used to solve problems, tell stories, provide entertainment, teach, and of course, help people collaborate and communicate! Here are some project ideas for a variety of subject areas:

  1. Develop an app to solve a conflict within a novel–man vs. man, man vs. nature, etc.
  2. Create an app that tells an interactive version of a story or historical event.
  3. Devise an app to help write geometric proofs.
  4. Design an app that lets people create something artistic.
  5. Create an app that helps people communicate more effectively or write a speech.
  6. Develop an app that teaches people how to eat healthy or exercise properly.
  7. Devise an app to track or chart scientific or mathematical data.
  8. Create an app to show people what it would be like to live in a particular time period.
  9.  Design a puzzle or logic game to demonstrate critical thinking skills.
  10. Develop an app to market a new invention or idea.

Do you have other ideas? If so, let me know by leaving a comment!


Step Up Your (Video) Game!

Be a part of the fun! Comment with your favorite game (and what subject area you could use it for, if possible). I’ll compile your input for a future post!


Altering Environment with an Itty-Bitty Classroom

Ever feel like the Genie in Alladin? “Phenomenal cosmic powers! Itty bitty living space!” Read on to learn how to differentiate environment even as a genie stuck in a bottle.

Differentiating environment means changing the way your classroom works and feels in order to meet the learning needs of students. This may include things like rearranging desks or providing alternative types of seating (like bean bags or a rug), as well as creating areas within your classroom for quiet learning and cooperative learning. However, if your classroom is anything like mine–the size of a magic lamp with 32 students and a bazillion bulky desks crammed inside–it can be rather difficult to alter the physical environment. Instead, use technology to grant the wishes of your students, and free yourself of the limitations of the magic lamp! Here’s the setup:

Let’s say your students are completing a practice assignment. Rather than make them all work independently or in groups, split your classroom into 3 learning zones based on personality type. To learn more about the Myers Briggs personality types discussed below, click here.

Zone 1: Extraverted Sensing Learners

Student Characteristics: Extraverted Sensing (ES) students learn best when they can move around, work with others, and use their hands.

Location: At the projector/whiteboard

Tools/Materials: whiteboard markers or sticky notes, OfficeLens (app), Post-its Plus (app)

Procedure: If possible, project the assignment onto a whiteboard. Using whiteboard markers, have students work together to complete the assignment. If you do not have a whiteboard behind your projector, you can project the assignment and have students add sticky notes to record their answers. Make sure students know that they are expected to work together on every question, though they may trade out who writes down each answer. You can also have students write their initials next to each question they helped with so you can quickly tell who has done what. When they are finished you may want to have them take a picture of their completed group assignment using an app like OfficeLens, which allows you to take a picture of a whiteboard and save it as a Microsoft Word document or PowerPoint (it also optimizes the photo to make it readable). If you have a large number of Extraverted Sensing students, you could split them into two groups, and have one group work with the whiteboard while the other group records their answers on Post-it notes, using the Post-its Plus app to digitally document and share their work.

Zone 2: Introverted Learners

Student Characteristics: Introverts (IN and IS) learn best when they have a chance to process information or practice a skill independently before sharing or discussing it with others.

Location: As far away as possible from Zone 1

Tools/Materials: Computers, device for listening to music (student’s preference)

Procedure: Have students work quietly and independently on the assignment. Allow them to listen to music (using headphones) if they like. You may want to have them turn their desks toward a wall or just away from other students to help them focus.

Zone 3: Extraverted Intuitive Learners

Student Characteristics: Extraverted Intuitive (EN) students learn best when they have a chance to experiment and be creative, as well as share their ideas.

Location: Anywhere there is leftover room

Tools/Materials: Computers, Google Drive/Google Docs

Procedure: Using Google Docs, share the assignment with all students in the group (to save yourself work, you could just share it with one student who then shares it with the other group members). If you are unfamiliar with Google Docs, watch this short video to learn how to share a document. Once the document is shared, all students will be able to type on the same document at the same time. Have students discuss and take notes on the questions together. When I do this, I have each student type their name in a different color font at the top of the page, then type all of their comments in the same color, so it is easy to see who wrote what. Because Extraverted Intuitives love to lead and come up with their own ideas, you may even let them decide how to structure their discussion. You can see a sample document below.


Do you have other ideas for tech tools to differentiate environment? If so, I would love to hear from you! You can leave comments to the left of the post.