Everything just looks better in word clouds (a weighted visual representation of text that shows a word’s prominence via font size and color) because let’s face it, our brains practically demand we up the eye-candy ante in this age of digital literacy.
I caught onto this craze while still in the classroom, and it became an instant obsession. It all started with a word cloud poster from Teacher’s Discovery on Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Raven.” At first, I had only planned to use the poster to foster discussion of word choice. Luckily, the Wordle web address was provided on the bottom corner of the poster.
The discovery of Wordle coincided with the short story unit in creative writing, so I had students pick a story from the unit and enter the full text. The best clouds were inspired by Joyce Carol Oates’ creepy stalker story “Where are you going, where have you been?” but alas it seems I did not save that batch of student work! My example that utilized the text of Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” is pictured above.
From there I opened it up as an extra credit option for my ninth and tenth grade English students. Luke, one of my most industrious students, took it upon himself to make clouds from the full text of The Odyssey and To Kill a Mockingbird.
Wordle can be manipulated to exclude commonly occurring words such as and, to, and also. All images created on the site are saved in their online gallery and a link is provided for you to bookmark your image. I asked students to do a screen capture and save the file as an image. Then they were to crop the file-menus and email the image to me as an attachment, thus incorporating a higher skill set than merely sending me the link from the website.
Reilly, another great student in my English 9 class opted to make a cloud using the full-text of Romeo and Juliet. It would be interesting to see this one without any character names and common words, so a clearer picture of Shakespeare’s word choice could be communicated.
Delanie, another super-motivated student made two word clouds for English 10 on Julius Caesar and Animal Farm.
If I were to have students make these again, I would definitely have them omit characters’ names for Shakespeare’s plays since the text of the play uses them over and over to indicate each time a character speaks. It would also be a good idea to have them write a little on what the cloud demonstrates about the author’s word choice.
Last, but certainly not least, is the cloud that Diana, an extremely creative and detail-oriented student in my creative writing class made on Sandra Cisneros’ book The House on Mango Street.
When it came to the poetry unit in creative writing, I made a cloud for most of the major poems we covered, but I am saving those to use another day. It will never cease to amaze me how time-consuming learning to effectively use digital media is, and yet we are still drilling high school students on nouns and verbs. What gives?
Have you used Wordle or Tagxedo?
Permission must be granted by the author to use the images in this post.