Systems of Support Supporting Educator Excellence through Technology and Strategy

Word Clouds in Education

Word Clouds are more popular than ever. They frequently appear in social media posts, advertisements and everywhere in between. If you aren’t familiar with a word cloud, it is basically a graphical representation of text based content. Relevant words that are used more in the text appear larger. They attempt to provide an aesthetically pleasing graphical summary of what the text is saying. Here’s an example of a Word Cloud I created from a question I posted on Facebook and Twitter (I asked people to list two qualities of a great teacher):Image of Word Cloud

While Word Clouds definitely have a cool factor, I find they are rarely used to their full potential (if at all) in classrooms. What I see most are students copying text from a web based article and pasting it in a word cloud generator, such as Wordle, to create the word cloud. They then share a link to it or include it in a report. While there is nothing wrong with this approach in general, there are more ways to take advantage of this tool than simply analyzing a web page.

I tend to approach integrating technology into classrooms from a Universal Design for Learning (UDL) perspective. Basically I say that during a lesson I should a.) represent content to students in multiple ways b.) ask students to express their knowledge of that content in multiple ways and c.) make it engaging. Word Clouds are no different. Here are a few ideas for using Word Clouds to represent information and have students demonstrate their knowledge:

Representation (teacher use):

  • Use a Word Cloud to introduce a new unit of study. Grab text from articles that you will be discussing over the next couple of weeks and dump it into a word cloud generator. Display the word cloud and discuss some of the words that pop out and how they relate to the topic.
  • Analyze a book, poem or play that you will be discussing
  • Use a Word Cloud generated on a topic by a student in another class as an alternate way to summarize a topic for others.
  • Discuss upcoming vocabulary that is listed in a Word Cloud
  • Point out overuse or underuse of key vocabulary in a writing.

Expression (student use):

  • Allow students to analyze their own writing by creating a word cloud.
  • Use a word cloud as a one slide presentation that can be used to explain a topic to the rest of the class. This can be an individual or group project.
  • Gather text from multiple sources (cite sources) on a topic to create a word cloud. What words pop out? Why?
  • Analyze grade level content and identify vocabulary that may be troubling. Have a strategy in place to help (that consists of more than just writing the word and definition).
  • Use a Word Cloud to help with comparing and contrasting two topics, people, etc…

Hopefully this list will help spur more ideas for how you can use Word Clouds. I tried to keep them general so that they would be appropriate across grade levels and content areas, but we would love to hear more specific ideas in the comment section below.

About Jason Carroll

Jason has trained thousands on Assistive Technology and Universal Design for Learning concepts throughout the United States and beyond. His focus is on integrating research based practices into the work he does and helping others ensure that what they are doing works. He specializes in assisting people to bridge the gap between operation of technology and actual implementation. Jason is a published author, has taught Instructional Technology and Universal Design for Learning at the University level, and spends a significant amount of time on e-Learning and blended learning initiatives. He is a graduate of the Assistive Technology Applications Certificate Program (ATACP) from California State University at Northridge and holds a Masters in Business Administration. Currently Jason serves as Product Marketing Manager for North America at Texthelp Inc. where he oversees new product launches and speaks nationally on a variety of Assistive Technology topics.

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