What to do with web 2.0 tools: Word clouds

At work I have a reputation for being a bit obsessed with word clouds. I do love them, but because I think they have great value in the classroom. If you’ve not encountered them before, I’m going to divide this post into word clouds that are created from prewritten text and those that are created as participants (those you have sent the URL/link to) input words. As with all our posts on web 2.0 tools – the tools that we feature are all free.

First the ones created from prewritten text.

Most word cloud generators will have the option for you to paste text that you have copied (from whatever source – word doc, web page…) as well as paste a URL.

The end result is a visual representation of all the words featured in the copied text – with the words that feature the most being the largest.

It’s a really quick way of seeing the focus of the text. Here is a word cloud created from a transcript from a Discovery Education Espresso video.

word clouds

So how could this be used in the classroom?

  1. If you have a transcript of a video that you are going to watch (or thinking about watching) you can very quickly see what the key words are. This helps a) to know which words students must know in order to gain the most from the video b) to show students before watching so they can begin predicting what the content of the video might be about and c) to inform you which words you could use with the strategy Vocabulary scavenger hunt XX – part of our SOS (spotlight on strategies) resources.
  2. You could paste a URL in from a web page relevant to your topic and ask students what they think the content is about and then compare that with a reading of the text online.
  3. Paste in a willing student’s piece of work (or a created piece of work by you) in order to see whether there are words like ‘and’ and ‘then’ used a little too often. With edits done collaboratively, you can then recreate the word cloud and compare with the previous version.

Word cloud tools such as Word it out are great because they don’t require plug ins such as Java or Silverlight which some of the other word cloud tools do. Word it out has, among other functionality, the ability to only show words that appear more than once, twice, etc. They take seconds to create, so you could within a minute or two, prepare a word cloud from copied text with all words; words that appear more than once and words that appear more than 3 times. These could be a useful comparison and begin discussions about language and reporting, venturing into the world of digital literacy, particularly if using URLs, to analyse online text.

Here is a word cloud using the same transcript as above, but this time, selecting words featured more than twice.

word clouds 2

So now for the word clouds which are generated by multiple users.

Answergarden is still my favourite for these. It’s really simple to use and doesn’t require sign up.

You can give students out the URL – or shorten it using a URL shortener (see post on shortening web addresses) – and ask them to respond to a question. There are settings for the number of characters, whether users can input the same response more than once, and others. But the exciting thing about these, is that everyone can watch the word cloud grow in real time. You just need to refresh the page. I’ve done this activity with teachers at PD sessions, and it never fails to be engaging. You want to see your word or phrase displayed and you want to see what others have written.

Sometimes, you may want to ask participants to repeat a word if they see it and agree with it (make sure you enable this in settings) – so you are working collaboratively, but have the benefit of anonymity. As I mentioned with the post on Padlet there is such benefit in utilising technology to allow anonymous input.

Here’s a word cloud created with responses to the question Describe the characteristics of Bradley Chalkers.

word clouds 3

As you can see there are words that come up more than others, and these will have been typed in more than once, according to their size.

You could try Answergarden out with a small group of colleagues, or even friends or family. Just send them the URL and refresh the page to see their entries.

This link actually uses the same book I did in the answergarden example above, but the suggestion with the word cloud is to use the first two pages of the book to show the most common words and discuss what they tell you about the book

I’d love to hear how you have used word clouds in school, please add to the comments box below.

Here are some other links that discuss use of word clouds in education: