Tools to Inspire Collaborative Discussions

Man reads with kids on floor of library
(Image credit: iStock/Wavebreakmedia)

More important than the learning that transpires in our classrooms is the learning we inspire beyond our classroom walls. One way to motivate students to continue using the knowledge acquired in our classes is to set up a virtual learning community. The free web tools below help teachers create a safe online class where students can access learning materials, post their work, and comment on the works of others. These platforms are online and accessible 24 hours, 7 days a week on multiple devices (computers, tablets, mobile devices and Chromebooks). Virtual learning communities enable every student to share their thoughts, ideas, and creativity with their peers in multiple formats, such as text, video, audio, and embedded media. Students are motivated to share more when they see feedback from their classmates, teachers, and parents.

Collaborative Discussion Tools

Flipgrid (opens in new tab) is a video response tool and app designed for schools. Students contribute a short video response to a video discussion prompt posted and can respond to others. Students can decorate their selfie videos with stickers and quickly generate QR codes for others to scan and view their videos. Flipgrid has tons of other features students and teachers love, such as accessibility with the Immersive Reader tool and the ability to create Augmented Reality videos.

Parlay Ideas (opens in new tab) is a free platform where teachers create discussion prompts with embedded materials that students review, add a response, and respond to their peers’ ideas. The free version allows teachers to set up 6 roundtable discussions. What I love about this tool is the ability for teachers to quickly add content and questions suggested by the platform.

LinoIt (opens in new tab) and Padlet (opens in new tab) are favorites among teachers and students. Teachers create a web wall where they can post questions, pdfs, files, audio, video, and images for students to quickly access on any device by clicking a url or scanning a QR code. Students post a response with different colored sticky notes. Students can share videos, pdfs, text, photos, emojis, and images. Padlet allows a limited amount of walls with the free version.

NowComment (opens in new tab) is a free tool students and teachers register for to engage in rich discussion over any uploaded document. Any sentence, paragraph, image, or video can have multiple conversations. (opens in new tab) is a tool that requires a free registration. Students highlight and discuss parts of a website, respond to peers, and vote up peer responses they like.

Active Textbook (opens in new tab) is a free iOS, Google Play, and Microsoft app with a variety of features teachers can use to create an engaging reading experience. Teachers add interactive elements such as discussion threads to existing books or documents.

Backchannel Chat (opens in new tab) allows teachers to control all aspects of an online discussion, such as removing messages, preventing posts, or pacing the discussion. Students join with a code.

To thank you for your sharing, friendship and support over the years I am sharing free tips, learning resources, web tools and apps for 25 days in my Digital December STEM Advent Calendar (opens in new tab).

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Shelly Terrell is a Technology and Computer teacher, education consultant, and author of books including Hacking Digital Learning Strategies: 10 Ways to Launch EdTech Missions in Your Classroom. Read more at

Shelly Terrell is an education consultant, technology trainer, and author. Read more at (opens in new tab)