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WebMentors Teacher Helpline: NYC Helpline: How To: Incorporate Technology in the Classroom

Using Wordle in the Classroom
Brent Sackris

As a teacher, you may already be used to hearing the usual moans and groans from your students when starting any non-fiction reading assignment.  Piquing student interest in a non-fiction reading assignment may seem laborious for any teacher, and students may feel that the common techniques, such as filling out a “KWL Chart” or the canned Graphic Organizer, are too played out.

Enter Wordle.  To quote directly from its website, Wordle is “a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text... The images you create with Wordle are yours to use however you like. You can print them out, or save them to the Wordle gallery to share with your friends.”

However, as a teacher, you can quickly and easily use this website to kick off a visually-stimulating pre-reading discussion with your students. Take this example of a word cloud created from a New York Times article about insect cooperation: 

Wordle automatically scans through the text of the article and pulls out the most frequently appearing words, and as you can see from this example, the word “ants” takes prominence in the center of the word cloud. Right away, even though the title of the original article, found here, does not mention "ants," wordle lets students know that this article will focus primarily on ants as the cooperating insect in question. 

However, as made apparent in the word cloud, the words “humans, species, together, labor, societies, group” also appear in larger font and closer to the central word of the cloud.  As an instructor, both you and your students have an instant visual representation of key words from the article, and you can ask your students to spend a few minutes, either individually, or in groups, to try to figure out how and why all these words might be related.  This allows for an immediate, directed, pre-reading assignment that could very easily turn into some lively discussion, and is itself free from the all-too-familiar constraints of a KWL Chart or canned Graphic Organizer. 

Wordle could also be used by teachers to differentiate classroom reading assignments. A teacher who knows that he/she works with a population of struggling readers could generate word clouds before reading assignments and ask students to circle the words from the cloud that they don't understand or are the least familiar (since wordle allows you to print out your clouds). The students can return the word clouds to the teacher before the reading so that the teacher can address these issues before the students get lost in a difficult reading assignment. 

Because wordle also allows users to post and comment on word clouds online, this is another great website to use to create “green” assignments for your classroom. Also, students can very easily cut and paste their own written work into wordle to see what comes up... This can be a novel way to correct repetitive word use, or students can share their clouds with each other to spark interest in their written work. 

Start Wordling Now by following these steps:

1. Log on to http://wordle.net/
2. Click on “create” on the homepage, under the descriptive paragraph text
3. Copy and paste your text in the text box that pops up
4. Hit Go
5. Wait a few minutes and enjoy.  Try tweaking your word cloud by playing with font, color, and  layout options that appear on the toolbar at the top of your word cloud.

Do you have a question about this article? E-mail Brent Sackris.


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