Word Clouds with Wordle

A word cloud is a visual representation of a passage of text.  Word cloud software analyzes the frequency of words in the passage and creates a “cloud” based on those frequencies.  Words that appear more often are larger in the cloud (Feinberg, 2013).  I had never really thought about using word clouds in my teaching practice, but since they seem quite popular I thought I would see what they were all about.

The Teaching History with Technology website lists a number of word cloud generation websites and I chose to check out Wordle first.  Wordle is extremely simple to use.  There is no login process to go through.  All a user has to do is paste or write a passage of text in the create box, hit Go and a word cloud is created.  Common words (the, and, in etc.) and numbers are eliminated, though Wordle lets you change the settings to include them if you want.  Once the word cloud is created, the user can then change the shape and colour of the cloud as well as the text font.   Wordle also allows users to remove words from the word cloud if they are seem unnecessary.

The word cloud I created using Wordle is about galaxies.  I copied and pasted a passage of text on galaxies from the Windows to the Universe website.  I then played around with the shape, colour and font until I had something I liked.  I also removed some words that I felt didn’t add anything to the cloud; words like ‘most’, ‘could’, ‘there’ etc.

A drawback of Wordle is that word clouds created there cannot be saved on the site.  The only option listed is to print them.  However, there are ways around this.  For Mac users, an option in Print is the Save as a PDF file onto your own computer.  For others, you can copy and paste your word cloud into a word or graphics document on your computer.  (Gorman, 2012).  You can then do whatever you want with your word cloud.

One of the main ways teachers use word clouds is to creatively display students’ work (Rimes, 2011).  However, the author at Tech Savvy Educator calls this “fluff”, and claims word clouds using Wordle often never get past this stage in the classroom (Rimes, 2011).  There are a number of other ways word clouds can be utilized.

  • Word clouds can be created to complement traditional frequency charts (Rimes, 2011)
  • Students can use Wordle to weed out over-used adjectives in their work (Rimes, 2011)
  • A teacher could keep track of a student’s writing ability by saving the wordle of each draft of an essay (Rimes, 2011)
  • Students can analyze speeches in history to get a snapshot of what was important to people at that time (Rimes, 2011)
  • Students can compare and contrast passages of text from famous speeches, song lyrics, news reports, book reviews or even classmates work (Winstrom, 2011)
  • Student profiles can be created using word clouds (Winstrom, 2011)
  • Word clouds can be created to summarize a unit’s key points or vocabulary learned (Winstrom, 2011)

Word clouds in Wordle come in a limited number of shapes, so if a teacher wants to concentrate on having students create word clouds for mainly visual appeal a word cloud generator like Tagxedo may be more useful.  Tagxedo allows the user to create word clouds in a variety of shapes that are more artistic looking and can fit a specific theme (Teaching History with Technology, 2012).  However, if teachers want to use word clouds as suggested above, I think Wordle is the way to go.  It is quick and easy and will allow students to concentrate more on the content rather than the shape.

Galaxy wordle 2

Feinberg, J. (2013). Wordle. Retrieved from http://www.wordle.net

Gorman, M. (2012). 12 Valuable wordle tips you must read: Word clouds in education series: Part 1. 21st Century Educational Technology and Learning. Retrieved from http://21centuryedtech.wordpress.com/2012/05/14/12-valuable-wordle-tips-you-must-read-word-clouds-in-education-series-part-1/

Rimes, B. (2011). 3 Ways to use wordle for more than fluff.  The Tech Savvy Educator. Retrieved from http://www.techsavvyed.net/archives/1154

Teaching History with Technology (2012). Word Clouds. EdTechTeacher Inc. Chestnut Hill, MA. Retrieved from http://thwt.org/index.php/research/word-clouds

Windows to the Universe (2012). Galaxies. National Earth Science Teachers Association. Retrieved from http://www.windows2universe.org/the_universe/Galaxy.html

Winstrom, E. (ed) (2011). The top 10 ways to use wordle at school. Bright Hub Education. Retrieved from http://www.brighthubeducation.com/teaching-methods-tips/58905-create-lesson-plans-using-wordle-web-technology/


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