Learning with word clouds

Danielle Bayes

Danielle Bayes is an IMS expert and writes regular articles about supporting learning with technology.

Danielle is an experienced teacher, having worked with pupils of all ages both in schools and as the eLearning teacher at one of the country’s City Learning Centres. Her expertise with using technology to support learning led her to work for Crick Software, where she is now the Curriculum Support Consultant, leading school INSET training with their software and creating print and video online support materials.

Crick Software’s aim is to help every pupil to achieve success by providing inclusive educational software for all ages and abilities, including struggling readers and writers, and those with special needs. Their flagship product Clicker is the innovative reading and writing tool which has enjoyed tremendous success in helping pupils to achieve rapid and permanent gains in their levels of literacy. For older students WriteOnline offers more support than any other word processor and has already made a huge impact on the education industry. They are also the creators of a range of acclaimed Powered by Clicker learning resources.

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Word banks have long been part of lessons right across the curriculum, provided to pupils to extend their vocabulary, support their writing or expand their understanding of a subject. They can be a simple but very powerful tool for learners of all ages.

When I was at school, I remember that my word banks were contained in small notebooks that we kept on our desks for easy access, in which we would add words to the lists ourselves. For today’s teachers web 2.0 tools have opened up a range of hugely exciting and motivating ways of creating and providing word banks for learners.

Wordle is probably the best known word cloud generator. In just a few steps, any piece of text can be turned into a word cloud, and it’s easy for children to spot which words are used most often in the text as they are displayed more prominently. However, asking children to examine the smaller words in the cloud can open up new vocabulary that is less often used in writing.

With Tagxedo you have the option to turn your word cloud into one of a selection of shapes, including various animals and objects like a tree, a speech bubble and a footprint. Hover over any word in a Tagxedo cloud and it will be enlarged, great for seeing those smaller words clearly.

Tagul also offers lots of flexibility for turning your word cloud into a shape, and offers the added facility of automatically turning the words in the cloud into hyperlinks, where a click of the word will Google it for you.

There are of course many other word cloud generators available, each one offering slightly different features. You will need to test a few out to see which fits best with your needs. All kinds of class activities can be created by using word clouds:

  • Why not ask pupils to create a word cloud that represents themselves? A great start-of-the-year activity for your students to introduce themselves.
  • Students take one of their own extended pieces of writing and turn it into a word cloud. They can then look for which words are overused and could be replaced with better alternatives.
  • Word clouds in other languages can be a very interesting way to introduce children to new vocabulary. Why not take a foreign translation of a familiar story and turn it into a word cloud, can pupils guess the story?
  • Creating word clouds from songs is an interesting way to see them in a new light. Asking young pupils to sing the song while pointing to the words in the cloud can develop their skills in recognising written words.

You can find many more ideas for using word clouds with children in this Use Wordle in the Classroom presentation, part of Tom Barrett’s Interesting Ways series.

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