Wordle: using word clouds in a lesson

Wordle is an useful and interesting tool to use to engage my pupils in text analysis, looking at language and vocabulary in detail

There has been a flurry of posts in the edublogosphere this week about Wordle, a very useful tool that allows you to create word clouds from text. It’s very simple to use: you just copy text in any language, paste it into Wordle and it will sift through it and create clouds with the most commonly occurring words in the text. You can then edit the shape, the colours and the font in the cloud and even remove words you don’t like by right-clicking on them.

I thought I’d use it with my sixth form (16-17 year olds) and then report on it. This was my lesson preparation:

  • I chose two online newspaper articles about the current topic we are studying: the environment.
  • I copied and pasted the articles into Wordle, creating two word clouds.
  • I created two word documents with the full articles and made enough copies.
  • I also printed both word clouds on one piece of A4 paper and made enough copies.
This is how the lesson went:
  • I handed out the hard copies of the word clouds to pupils and asked them to fold their papers in half so every other pupil would be looking at a different word cloud.
  • Pupils were asked to look at the word clouds, with a dictionary, and try to ascertain the gist of the original articles.
  • Half the class then explained to the other half what they thought their article was about while I displayed each word cloud in turn on the interactive whiteboard (see illustrations), highlighting words one at a time and extracting relevant / useful vocabulary.
  • I then handed out copies of the original articles in full to my pupils and discussed the vocabulary further.

The lesson went very well and I found Wordle to be an useful and interesting tool to use to engage my pupils in text analysis, looking at language and vocabulary in detail. My pupils liked the way Wordle automatically picked up the gist of any given text so much that they asked me about how to use Wordle to help them revise in other subjects.

I certainly see myself using it again, not only as a text analysis tool, but also as a tool to elicit speaking and creative writing. I’ll let you know how I get on!

Have you already used Wordle in your lessons? What do you think?

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José Picardo

José is Assistant Principal at Surbiton High School and a Fellow of the RSA and Naace. He is interested in improving education and the way technology can be used to enhance and transform teaching and learning. José has been curating Box of Tricks since 2007 and holds a MA in ICT and Education.

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