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Collaboratively discuss and classify information into meaningful categories with this desktop and iOS tool as an interactive graphic organizer.

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PlayMaker School

POPPLET overview

Popplet is a free, easy-to-set-up-and-use-collaboratively online brainstorming, presentation, and productivity tool that allows users to organize ideas graphically. The main feature of Popplet is the “popples” - boxes that can contain a variety of media (text, images, YouTube videos, or drawings) and which can be connected to form relationships between things and ideas. Popplet is an effective learning tool because it can facilitate a collaborative, iterative, and relational way of communicating information and may be used in almost any disciplinary context. 

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Experience breakdown

lesson plan overview

This lesson plan was concocted at the PlayMaker School in Santa Monica as part of a taxonomy module where our middle school students were given the unique opportunity to thoughtfully negotiate what they considered essential by organizing information into meaningful categories. We found that Popplet, as a graphic organization tool, was conducive for this exercise.

Instead of us telling them what was important, this activity allowed students to develop a set of skills to help them understand the usefulness of a taxonomy; it is a means to collaborate, communicate, and create meaning with others to make sense of the world around them. These skills, as articulated by our students, included: comparing and contrasting, naming, clustering, and creating formal groups. Students were then able to transfer these skills to multiple content areas, including science (wave forms and wildlife) and game design (video game systems). This exercise can also be done at the high school level as discussions may prove to be more nuanced and complex.

Fish Popplet

First, we created four different popplets, uploading images from four broad categories that we believed students would be able to further distill and create more specific subcategories for (e.g. fish (see above), birds, fruits and vegetables, and video game systems).

We then divided students into four groups and gave each group an iPad loaded with a different category and explained to them that they would use Popplet to create a taxonomy for their given category.

We had a brief discussion about what strategies they could employ to create subcategories that everyone in their group could agree upon. For example, some strategies that came up during our exercise were looking at color, shape, length of parts of anatomy, function, etc.

Students then worked in their groups as the teachers walked around and asked them about their strategies. Afterwards, we reflected with them on which strategies were effective, which ones were ineffective, and what they learned from the exercise.

Learning Objectives

  • Develop a set of skills that can be used for making observations, organizing data, analyzing for patterns, and making predictions.

  • Collaborate with others to classify textual and visual information into meaningful categories.

  • Justify the creation of meaningful categories through negotiation with others.

lesson steps

Materials We Used

  • Four iPads or four computers, each one loaded with a different Popplet.
  • The Popplet app needs to be downloaded on the iPad. If using the iPad, we recommend purchasing the full version for $4.99.
STEP 1. Create at least one Popplet with a series of photos that may fall under a certain category. A simple Google keyword search should offer plenty of images that can be uploaded. For our activity, the four categories we created were: birds, fish, vehicles, and video game systems. Below is our Popplet of video game systems. Have each category on one iPad or computer. For the iPad, we purchased the full version of Popplet ($4.99).

Videogame Popplet

  • NOTE: We decided not to include any accompanying text with the images because we wanted students to use their intuition and generate their own labels;  providing text would go against our pedagogy of allowing students to collaboratively create meaning, as they would use the text instead of each other to make their categories.
STEP 2. Explain to students that they are going to participate in a taxonomy exercise. Have them brainstorm what is important when they are in a group and are creating categories that everyone can agree on. Below is a brief video of our PlayMaker teacher, Tedd Wakeman, facilitating a discussion with the students on strategies when categorizing. His goal was for students to explain that determining the “essential characteristics” of the information presented to them was the key strategy in creating taxonomies.

Explanation of Activity

STEP 3. Show them how to use Popplet for this exercise, including how to zoom in and out, create new boxes and add content, and connect boxes to one another. Here, Tedd walks the students through how to connect boxes to each other.

Popple Connect

STEP 4. Divide students into small groups and tell them that one person in the group will control Popplet at a time.

STEP 5. Students then use Popplet to create their taxonomy. In our case, we found that students spent the first 10-15 minutes in a heated discussion over what characteristics of the images they thought were important. We felt that this “productive struggle” was a valuable learning experience as students had to make their case, critically listen to the argument of others, and attempt to come to an agreement.

STEP 6. The teacher goes to each group and asks them what strategy they are employing to categorize the information presented to them.

Below is a video of two groups’ articulation of their strategy. First is the group categorizing the Popplet on birds.

Bird Articulation

Here, AJ Webster, our other PlayMaker teacher, sits down with the Fish group and asks them about their strategy.

AJ with the Fish group

Fish Articulation

STEP 7. Students then take screenshots of their taxonomies and send them to the teacher. The teacher then facilitates a debriefed discussion as students reflect on what was easy, what was difficult, and what new strategies they discovered during the taxonomy exercise.

Vehicle Popplet


Common Core - English Language Arts

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.4 Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse formats and media, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
Speaking and Listening
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.2 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.5 Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.
3-5-ETS1-2. Generate and compare multiple possible solutionsto a problem based on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.
3-PS2-2. Make observations and/or measurements of an object’s motion to provide evidence that that a pattern can be used to predict future motion.

MS-ETS-1. Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions.
MS-ETS-2. Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.
MS-ETS-4. Develop a model to generate data for iterative testing and modification of a proposed object, tool, or process such that an optimal design can be achieved.

ISTE NETS - Digital Age Skills

1. Creativity and Innovation
Students demonstrate creative thinking, construct knowledge, and develop innovative products and processes using technology.
Apply existing knowledge to generate new ideas, products, or processes 
Identify trends and forecast possibilities 
2. Communication and Collaboration
Students use digital media and environments to communicate and work collaboratively, including at a distance, to support individual learning and contribute to the learning of others.
Interact, collaborate, and publish with peers, experts, or others employing a variety of digital environments and media
Develop cultural understanding and global awareness by engaging with learners of other cultures
3. Research and Information Fluency
Students apply digital tools to gather, evaluate, and use information.
Plan strategies to guide inquiry
4. Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, and Decision Making
Students use critical thinking skills to plan and conduct research, manage projects, solve problems, and make informed decisions using appropriate digital tools and resources.
Plan and manage activities to develop a solution or complete a project
Collect and analyze data to identify solutions and/or make informed decisions
topic discussion
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