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Wordle While You Work

If you asked me a year ago what a word cloud was, I might have told you that it was a cumulous cloud formation that looked like some kind of word floating up in the sky. How things change! Today, I know that word clouds mean no such thing. In fact, that curious phrase has joined the ranks of words like Google, Ning, Wiki, Blog, and Podcast -- that ever-growing list of never-before-heard 21st century words.

According to Wikipedia, a word cloud is a visual depiction of a set of related tags with corresponding weights. Typical tag clouds have between 30 and 150 tags, [and] weights are represented using font sizes or other visual clues."

Before you write word clouds off as something used solely by web page designers and computer geeks, think again. Thanks to a nifty web tool called Wordle, you can create your own word clouds and tap into the educational benefits this verbal-ranking, categorization tool offers.

Wordle not only enables you to create artwork from words, its wondrous properties also allow you to identify key words within a written passage and analyze content. While the business world looks for unexpected ways to make use of word clouds, classroom teachers already have stepped out in front by identifying all kinds of applications for the schoolhouse -- applications that encompass everything from assessment to test review to storytelling.

After combing the Web for examples of how teachers are using Wordle, it was evident to me that teachers once again have been busy making educational connections to emerging technologies. Below are just a few examples.

A word cloud of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream Speech.” Image courtesy of Wordle.

How Do You Create Work Art?
Before you start, watch How do you Create Word Art?, Chris Pirillos entertaining and interesting video tutorial about the different uses of Wordle.

Wordle: Using Word Clouds in a Lesson
Jos Picardo, a modern languages teacher at Nottingham High School, has created Box of Tricks, a highly informative page about the uses of Wordle.

TED: Ideas Worth Spreading
The folks at TED show inspiring examples of how any block of text can turn into a thought-provoking word cloud.

Peace in 300 Languages
Be inspired! Take a look at what happened when Antoni Kolev immersed himself in Wordle and created a design with the word for Peace" in more than 300 languages!


I can use this with my fifth graders to create a word cloud for math vocabulary we encounter every day. The list could be added to every day, and then uploaded every Friday to see which words/concepts we use the most. We could do that at the end of a chapter, subject, grading period or school year. I think the tool would help students see which concepts are most important, or at least most important based on our curriculum."
~ Rodney Turner

Im thinking Wordle would make a fun exercise for reviewing for exams. Students could develop their own word clouds in their groups and then share them with the class and explain what they know. Students also could use them for short presentations rather than using PowerPoint. It would solve the problem of slides with too much text."
~ Delany Kirk

I thought the tool could be used as an assessment of how a class developed their use of vocabulary in character description, i.e. paste all of the descriptions in at the start and at the end of a topic and see the differences in language use."

We went on an excursion to see the art at the National Gallery of Victoria. Have a look at our word cloud. Classes brainstormed a list of words that sprang to mind after the excursion, and then voted on the ones we felt were most significant. The more popular the vote, the bigger the word appears."
~ Tania Hunt

Jacquie Sharp, an educational technology consultant from new Zealand, shares a plethora of ways to merge Wardle and learning at Wordle: Word Clouds.

About the Author

Brenda Dyck is a sessional instructor at the University of Alberta, in Edmonton, Alberta (Canada). In addition to teaching preservice teachers, Brenda is the moderator of MiddleTalk, a listserve sponsored by the National Middle School Association (NMSA). Her "HotLinks" column is a regular feature in NMSA's magazine, Middle Ground. Brenda also is a teacher-editor for MidLink magazine.

Author: Brenda Dyck
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Updated 08/31/2009