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Building confidence in using online forums
Building confidence in using online forums

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4.1 Playing with materials

When you sit down in front of a computer screen, ready to write on a forum, the materials you have to play with may not be obvious. But if you take a moment to think what they are, you will see how rich they can be.

For example, words are often thought of as fixed: they have a meaning and there are rules about how to use them in a sentence. However, even common words hold slightly different meanings and associations for different people. Words in different combinations, or emphasised in different ways, can also lead to new meaning. In other words, playing with words can lead to learning.

In the next activity, you will explore in more detail how words can take on multiple meanings and associations.

Activity 4 Playing with individual words

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

Imagine you are participating in a forum about how communities respond to new housing estates being built. Read the comment posted by Kerry, then complete the tasks below.

New houses, new people coming from somewhere outside the community, of course it will have a big impact on people’s behaviour but also on how they see their community!
  1. Choose a key word from this statement to play with (e.g. new, people, houses, outside, community, impact, behaviour).
  2. Find a blank piece of paper and some coloured pens or pencils and write the word in different ways (big, small, different types of lettering).
  3. In the spaces between your words, write down all the different ways you think of the word. (What links, associations and meanings does the word spark?)
  4. Now re-read Kerry’s comment with all these additional meanings around the word you chose.
    • What new ideas does it create?
    • What different meanings are added to what is being said?
    • What questions does it raise?


The word ‘community’ can have many different associations. For instance, it contrasts with ‘outside’ and involves a sense of belonging, a sense of togetherness and a sense of tradition. These associations also contrast with ‘new’.

By commenting on the different meanings of the word on the forum discussion, you can expand your own and other participants’ thinking.

In the next activity, you will explore in more detail how words can take on multiple meanings and associations.

Playing with individual words in this way opens up the possibilities of understanding one comment, or even one word, in multiple ways, which creates new questions and new opportunities to explore. This is an active process, where you are thinking out from your original response, pushing yourself to be playful, rather than taking something at face value on the first reading. While you may do this individually, sharing your discoveries on the forum opens up possibilities for other people to follow. For example, by photographing and posting your playful word sheet or by adding a comment to explain the different ways in which you have thought about a word.