The following article is reposted from its original  with permission of author, MJ Linane.
Essays can get boring for students to write. It can also get boring for teachers to read and grade all of them. There are other ways for teachers to teach argument and creativity. We already know students have a range of argument skills. If students are given a selection of tools the results can be surprising! We must not be afraid to test out new ways for students to show their knowledge.
A couple of weeks ago I had students make word cloud arguments. It was meant to be a tool to help prepare them for the final assessment. I asked them to choose a perspective on the British colonization of India. I asked them to conclude if it was it overall positive or negative. Normally this would be a written assignment. Here is the full alternate assignment below.
British Imperialism in India Word Cloud Assignment
Side-Quest: Imperialism in India: A Jewel?
You have now learned of the horrible conditions of the Congo but also the failed attempt of the Italians at conquering the Ethiopians. But what if imperialism was not all that bad? When the British conquer India, it looked like every other country conquered during the age of Imperialism. But India might be different. The British did improve India and the changes they made may have actually improved India over the long-term.
You will decide what is true!
Side-Quest: The Story of Imperialism in A Word Cloud
Powerpoint: India PPT
Step 1: Brainstorm: 25 words, vocabulary, or phrases that best summarize the experience of the British in India. These words can be all positive, all negative, or a mixture of both.
Step 2: Create! Choose which tool you want to use. Then enter your words and make any
customizations you would like. (see example below)
Step 3: Defend:
Post your word cloud picture file/link in the discussion board below.
FINAL MEET AND GREET. Go talk with 3 other artists about their word cloud. Go to the link & fill out the form regarding it.
In summary, the students were to take everything they learned about imperialism in Africa and make an argument. I used Schoology for this assignment so it allowed me to lay out every step in the process.
Word Cloud Differentiation
I realize that not every student will get into the word clouds as an activity. Also, some students can get overwhelmed by the options. Other students, we know, can really get creative if given the opportunity. Therefore, I gave two choices. I gave students the options to choose between using a simple cloud maker and one that had more advanced tools.
Students who started with the simple maker often moved to the more advanced version. Their friends were showing off their cool creations. It drove others to join in on the fun!
The Results? Awesome!
I was very pleased with what the students created! It made me feel even better to know that they enjoyed the experience too! They learned a new tool, got to share their creations, and learned more about British India than if I had simply lectured to them. They had to choose the words and phrases that reflected their argument. Ultimately, they did not disappoint!
If you need to align this type of assignment to the Common Core, there is no shortage of relevant standards. Here some I found:
Introduce precise claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and create an organization that establishes clear relationships among the claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.
Develop claim(s) and counterclaims fairly, supplying data and evidence for each while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both claim(s) and counterclaims in a discipline-appropriate form and in a manner that anticipates the audience’s knowledge level and concerns.
Introduce a topic and organize ideas, concepts, and information to make important connections and distinctions; include formatting (e.g., headings), graphics (e.g., figures, tables), and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.
Develop the topic with well-chosen, relevant, and sufficient facts, extended definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples appropriate to the audience’s knowledge of the topic.
Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to manage the complexity of the topic and convey a style appropriate to the discipline and context as well as to the expertise of likely readers.
Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products, taking advantage of technology’s capacity to link to other information and to display information flexibly and dynamically.
MJ Linane is an award-winning teacher, blogger and founder of Guildway. He has written for Edsurge and Smarter Schools. He focuses on education technology, blended learning, gamification, and teacher productivity. He lives and teaches in Massachusetts with his wife and young sons.