10 ways to use Wordles in the Classroom

April 21, 2009


Here are some further thoughts on how teachers might find a home for ‘Wordles’ in their classrooms.  As an English teacher, many of the suggestions have a distinctly literary context but I’ve tried to offer a few suggestions for other areas of the curriculum too.  

  1. Create a Wordle as a pre-reading activity for a class novel or play – distribute it to the students and they work individually, then in pairs and finally in fours to make some predictions about plot lines, characters, genre and themes.  You could shape the cloud to emphasise whatever terms or ideas you would like.
  2. At the other end of the class reader, invite students to create their own Wordle that challenges your original design – they must offer new tags, change their relative size and perhaps even orientation and colour scheme – this could be followed by oral presentations or written work to justify their design choices.  The class could vote on which Wordle is the ‘best fit’.
  3. It would seem to me that a tag cloud is a perfect quick analysis tool for vocabulary and discourse markers in non-fiction texts – feed in a piece of powerful rhetoric, slick sales literature or emotive reporting and then have the students attempt to determine the writer’s purpose, intended audience and the likely original text type before you distribute the original writing.  This could be extended for example to evaluate the different kinds of vocabulary employed in tabloid and broadsheet newspapers.
  4. Another way in which a wordle could be used as an evaluative tool would be to feed the content of a student’s creative writing into the app, and then work with them to identify vocabulary that is overused – for example if ’said’ or ‘went’ are dominant terms in the cloud, they can be encouraged to employ a broader range of descriptive verb choices. 
  5. MFL teachers could post vocabulary tag clouds in their given language around the room as display pieces, clustered around a particular theme.  Again, with a little thought any subject could display terminology specific to their discipline and blow the Wordle up to any scale using poster maker software that is now readily available.
  6. Have Art students keep a Wordle journal for a week or longer, capturing keywords that reflect the essence of their day.  These can be printed and then may become a background collage for an extended piece of work.  Or how about an origami sculpture or textile project using transfer papers?
  7. History teachers might create a ‘Who am I’? cloud with keywords that point towards key figures in the period they are studying.  If several of these were posted around the room (or School) the students could go on a treasure hunt for identities – perhaps with a close sheet that they must fill in – matching the Wordles to the 10 characters whose brief biogs they have in hand.
  8. A daily register could be fed into the system at the end of a term or year to reflect the number of absences or attendances in class!  The bigger the name, the less contact time they will have lost.  In the same vein, perhaps the key words from an annual report could be clustered to create a visual map of an individual pupil’s progress and areas for development in the future.
  9. During orientation at the beginning of an academic year, students (and particularly those moving up from primary education) could create a Wordle which reflects their hobbies, interests, family members, pets favourite films and books etc.  These could be gathered and displayed in their tutor room as part of their welcome to the community.  Perhaps each teacher could have their own Wordle outside their classroom too which might reflect their biography, their life outside the classroom (yes we do have them!) and their passion for their subject.
  10. Students could be encouraged to create a tag cloud that reflects their dreams and aspirations for the future.  The basic text could be saved into a word document and the Wordle printed off.  A year later the exercise could be repeated, using the original text as a starting point and then adapted to reflect shifts in those goals and ambitions – such an exercise offers an excellent opportunity for intrapersonal intelligence work within PHSE sessions.

So those are my initial thoughts.  No doubt there are countless more applications just waiting to pop up in the community and as you can probably tell, I’m already a fan of tag clouds!  I’d love feedback to find out if any of this is useful and to hear what other ideas you might have.

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