Backchanneling In Grade 1

If you told me that one day I would use a backchannel in my Grade 1 class, I would never have believed you.  As far as I was concerned, backchanneling is an activity for high school students, post-secondary students, and adults, but not for elementary students.  My thoughts changed though when I read one of @zbpipe’s tweets about her use of EtherPad in the classroom.  Zoe Branigan-Pipe was backchanneling successfully with her Grade 6 students, so I knew that I had to try this out with my Grade 1’s.  The opportunity presented itself on Wednesday when I planned to use Crocodoc for an important brainstorming activity for our Community Project, but the Flash Player on our school computers wouldn’t work properly.  It was 7:30 in the morning, and I was trying to think of a good alternative.  That’s when I remembered @mrjarbenne’s last SMART Board inservice, and his use of Today’sMeet as a backchannel.  I had to give this a try!  I set up a chat room in just a number of minutes, and then I was ready to go!

This backchannel was a huge success!  Even my quieter students that rarely participate in class were sharing ideas as we reviewed the key elements of a community in an attempt to create a definition of “community.”  Students quickly figured out that they could ask questions of their peers and respond to questions too.  They were reading, writing, and thinking, and yet, as far as they were concerned, they were just having fun!  My class loved using Today’sMeet and was eager to use it again, but the students really wanted the use of their own computers.

I then decided to use Today’sMeet again on Friday.  @mcarls was running a GoogleWave session for educators in Buffalo, New York.  He allowed me to be involved in this session, and I decided to get my students involved too.  I set up a chat room for them to share their thoughts on GoogleWave and on our Community Project.  I then signed-out the set of laptops, so that each student could have his/her own computer.  Students were told that they could have a “life line”: a student sitting beside or across from them that could help them if they ran into difficulties.  I then put the GoogleWave session on the SMART Board: allowing them to see what the adults were sharing as they shared in the Today’sMeet Room. 

This weekend, I looked closely at the conversations between my students in the Today’sMeet Room and also looked closely at the conversations between the adults in the GoogleWave, and the similarities between the discussions were amazing.  Both groups started out with greetings, shared many of the same concerns, and even interjected with some light-hearted exchanges between on-task discussions.  When I really look at what happened in my room on Friday, I think to myself that I really was witnessing a “learning community” in action, and that I was as much a part of this learning community as my students.

It really is amazing what Grade 1 students can do, and I can’t wait to see what other exciting adventures this year brings!  For parents reading this blog post, I would love to hear your feedback on this backchannel.  What did your children think of it?  What are your thoughts on using it in the classroom?  And for educators reading this blog post, have you ever used a backchannel in your classroom?  What program did you use?  How successful was it? 

Thank you for sharing your experiences here!  It’s as we share that we learn more.


11 thoughts on “Backchanneling In Grade 1

  1. I have never used or heard of a backchannel until I saw it mentioned in the Free Technology for Teacher’s blog today. I have followed up a couple of his links and here am I reading your post and wondering how I can use it in my classroom. It sounds good.

    • Thanks for your comment! I’m glad that you liked the post and are considering trying out a backchannel for the first time. In my reply to Michelle, I mentioned a couple of different things that you may want to consider when trying it out. Maybe this will give you some ideas too. I think that backchannels work great when reflecting on information learned in class (e.g., a big idea in science or social studies) or when sharing ideas about a book or a movie shown in class. Hopefully this will give you a few ideas to start with, and I hope that you’ll comment here and let me know what you end up doing. I’m sure it will be great!


  2. This inspires me to try it myself if I can find a way to do it that my district hasn’t blocked. I learned so much this weekend at RSCON 10 and I am anxious to try many new things.

    What do you recommend that I teach my 3rd graders first? Many of them do not have computer access at home and there are some physical things that they must learn, but beyond that? I just want to make sure my students are prepared before they jump in.

    Thanks for any help you are able to offer.

    • Thanks for the comment! I’m glad that you liked this blog post and that you plan on trying out a backchannel with your third graders. You may want to consider pairing up the students for the first time, and not doing it during another activity (I used to sometimes have a backchannel going during a movie or while reading a story, so that children could share their ideas while they were listening), but as a reflection afterwards. If you have a SMART Board or a projector in your room, pull up the “meeting room,” and write a comment or two as a class. You may even want to write in a couple of questions to get the children thinking. Let them know that they can respond to other things that people say, and talk about appropriate and inappropriate responses. My rule used to be that you could not say anything hurtful: for the Grade 1 mentality, “be nice!” Most of all, just have fun with it, know that it won’t be perfect the first time, and try it out again.

      If you’re having trouble accessing Today’sMeet for a backchannel, you may want to try out Twiducate: It’s free, completely private, and tends to be open when other things aren’t. I’ve used Twiducate many times before with my class, and always with great success. Good luck!


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  4. Wow. What a ripper! I am an ex primary school teacher in Australia who is now teaching disengaged youth in a TAFE context. What a delight to see the work you are doing with ones so young. I am inspired. I have been trying to get 1:1 laptops for my class all year. Just recently it was announced that they are coming. Shame is my program is not going to run next year. All going well I hope to get it going with a collaboration of secondary schools.

    Have added you to my favourites to be reminded how important our work with new technology is for all ages.
    Keep up the great work.

    PS. Ira Socol @irasocol provided a link to your website.



    • Thank you so much for the positive feedback! As you can tell, I really do see value in using technology with students of all ages. Good luck with your program!


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  6. I am not sure I have quiet figured out what back channeling is but it sounds kind of interesting. You have planted a seed. I am going to do a little more research and see if I can tab into it.


    • Thanks for your comment, Jim! Backchanneling is almost like having a conversation in the “background” when another conversation is taking place. I’m sure you’ll find lots in your research on the topic. If I can help in any way, let me know. Hope you try this out and share how it goes too!


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