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.
I can understand your interest in word clouds! These look really cool, and very interesting. An charming classroom activity, too.
They can be very revealing. I tagged all my books on Shelfari and it provided a great visual for what I value the most in books I am drawn to.
What a wonderful blending of traditional and technology … I hope you influence your curriculum to keep students interested in great works while introducing them to the new medium of digital media. Thanks for sharing the Word Clouds.
Unfortunately, I’ve had to “escape” the classroom for awhile. Even with the push to make students technologically proficient, the obsession over getting students to do well on standardized tests eclipses all else. However, I am using a word cloud for the cover of my first eBook.
The ways in which technology impacts education continue to amaze me. I also wonder, though, whether word clouds don’t sometimes create a sense of visual invasion in the ways that they guide awareness. Despite the apparently rhizomatic nature of the clouds, they do focus our attention on prominence rather than subtle flavors.
You might also be interested in the blog of a friend of mine, an expert in such educational concepts. Her name is Mary Ann Reilly and she can be found at maryannreilly.blogspot.com
Communicating subtlety to ninth and tenth graders… ahh an English teacher’s wish!
WOW–I am so impressed! Word clouds are totally new to me and what an amazing phenomenon–I would think students would be totally fascinated by them. Thanks for sharing your examples with us and I’m looking forward to seeing the cover of your e-book!
Those are so cool! I hadn’t heard of the programs that do this before, or realized I could do it too!
Laura, word clouds are way cool and so easy to make. The crux for me usually lies in how long I will tinker with how one looks after its initial creation.
This is very cool. Today I was asking one of my friend about word clouds and asked her to teach me… Oh I am amazed how quickly at times wishes come true.