A virtual Big Paper can be used to help students explore a topic in-depth, slow down their thinking, and focus on the views of others. In a virtual Big Paper discussion, students respond to a stimulus, such as an interview audio clip or historical document, using a collaborative digital-tool (such as a GoogleDoc, Google Jamboard, Padlet, or VoiceThread).
Learning is social, and taking Big Paper online provides an opportunity for students to exchange ideas and extend their thinking. You can use Big Paper to engage students who are not as likely to participate in verbal discussion and to make sure that students who are eager to talk carefully consider others’ ideas. Big Paper also creates a visual record of students’ thoughts and questions that you can refer back to at any time.
Students can complete a virtual Big Paper discussion asynchronously during a defined time period, though you may choose to complete the final debrief of the activity during a synchronous session.
The following questions can help you plan to use a virtual Big Paper:
Select a Stimulus for Discussion
Begin by selecting the “stimulus”—the material that students will respond to during the activity. A stimulus might consist of questions, quotations, historical documents, excerpts from novels, poetry, or images. Audio clips and videos also make great stimuli in an online environment. This activity is best done when students work asynchronously for a defined period of time (1-2 days) in small groups. Each group can either be given the same stimulus or a different stimulus related to the same theme.
Create the Virtual Big Paper
Create a virtual Big Paper for each group using a collaborative digital tool (such as a GoogleDoc, Google Jamboard, Padlet, or VoiceThread). On each Big Paper, type, embed, or link the stimulus that will be used to spark the students’ discussion.
Try It Out!
Visit our Taking Big Paper Online Padlet to post, connect, and experience the tool.
Visit our Taking Big Paper Online VoiceThread to post, connect, and experience the tool.
Determine how you want to introduce your students to the activity (for example, through video or written instructions or during a synchronous meeting). You can adapt and share the Instructions for Students. Assign students to small groups.
Students Comment on Their Group’s Big Paper
Share the virtual Big Papers with each group. Ask students to post questions and comments on their Big Paper during a defined time period. If a student poses a question on the Big Paper, another should respond. The conversation must start around the text but can stray wherever the students take it. Depending on the tools you use, students can connect a comment to a particular question by drawing lines or including “@” tags.
Students Comment on Other Groups’ Big Papers
Share each group’s virtual Big Paper with the full class. Still working asynchronously, students read other Big Papers, leaving comments or further questions for thought.
Students Return to Their Group’s Big Paper
Have students return to their group’s Big Paper and look at any new comments left by others. Ask students to take out their journals and identify a question or comment that stands out to them after reviewing the new comments. (See our teaching strategy Journals in a Remote Learning Environment for guidance on setting up students’ journals during remote learning.)
Finally, debrief the process with students. To debrief asynchronously, create a new virtual discussion space for the whole class. Begin the conversation with a simple prompt such as, “What did you learn from doing this activity?” Use students’ ideas from the Big Papers to draw out students' thoughts and delve deeper into the content.
You can also debrief the activity during your next synchronous full class meeting.
View our resources for supporting teachers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Designed for remote settings, this discussion strategy is especially useful when having conversations about controversial topics.