Sunday, July 17, 2011

Using Word (Tag) Clouds in Teaching

I've been playing about word (or tag) clouds and teaching for a while now. My problem is that when I'm brainstorming with my students, I never know quite what to do with the results in terms of saving them for future lessons or for something that students can refer back to in their own time, for example when I use them with creative writing and ideas for an essay or story. My writing is the pits and words in a list like a word document don't ever seem to cut the creative mustard, so I've been hunting for an alternative.

While Word Clouds are not the answer to all the problems in life, they are a good start and something I'm going to try and use a bit more in class as an experiment. I use Wordle as a tool to create them but try to use others such as Taxedo, Tagcrowd, and Worditut. A word or tag cloud is simply a weighted list a visual representation for text data, typically used to depict tags on websites, or to visualise free form text. It's good to use to put together group work-for example if students are reviewing the Genesis creation accounts, you can see from the size of the word on your word cloud, the frequency it occurs in feedback.

Word Cloud for this website created on Wordle. Not sure why it looks like a hairdryer though...

Word Cloud of Exodus 15:1-18 created on Wordle.

And the Book of Jonah-I used this with some of my postgraduate students last semester when we were looking at the distribution of the divine names in the text.

Do remember that you have to set up Java to get the site to work properly and that you need to take a screen shot of the Word Cloud and crop it in a programme like Paint to save it as a png file you can work with. Most sites have a "help" section that guides you through the dumb questions :)

For more information on word clouds in education, have a look at research from Bath University (they have an excellent comparison of some of the top sites to save you the finger work), Box of Tricks (with great practical examples of use in a classroom) and more on Wordle in teaching with lots of samples. 

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