This summer, Im exploring a variety of Web sites and tools that you can use in the classroom and/or for your own professional development. Each week, Ill talk about how it works, point out related sites, and discuss classroom connections. This week, I focus on a text cloud program called Wordle.
You have probably seen a tag cloud. Its a collection of the tags for a blog that uses larger and bolder fonts for the tags that are used most frequently and smaller regular fonts for the tags that are used less frequently. Tags between the two extremes are sized based upon where they fall on the spectrum. You can see the Tag Cloud for this blog over in the right sidebar, below the names of the Editors.
Wordle applies the structure of tag clouds to any chunk of text you'd like to analyze. The site includes a gallery of examples, which you can browse through to choose some appropriate to choose with students and colleagues. Perhaps you could use The Declaration of Independence as part of your discussion of colonial America, for example. Theres also a search that will help you find examples you might share. Remember that the tool is open to the general public, so there may be inappropriate texts in the Gallery.
Ill admit that the tool is addictive. I found myself creating map after map. First I created a map of the homepage of this blog. Because the tool can make a map of any page with an RSS feed, all I had to do was give Wordle the blogs URL, and the tool generated a map of the 150 words Ive used most frequently:
Why is this a useful tool for English language arts and composition teachers? Its fun, and anything that encourages writers to play with words is a good choice for the writing classroom. Theres more to it than that though. Ask students to use Wordles ability to analyze a chunk of text to create clougs for texts that they are writing. To test it, I pasted in the first chapter from my book (Designing Writing Assignments), and after a little playing with colors and layouts, I had this cloud:
The tool is robust enough to handle most texts that kindergarten through college students are likely to create. The manuscript version of my first chapter is twelve pages long and contains 2850 words. That length is far more than the average for most student papers.
Naturally, I didnt stop with my own writing. I tried some literature as well. Heres a poem Im sure youll recognize:
As I looked at the cloud for “The Raven,” I couldnt help feeling that I had created a piece 21st century text in its own right. Im not sure where I want to use that image, but I really like it and may use it elsewhere. Fortunately, Wordles creator, Jonathan Feinberg, gives all rights to the images to the creators and even allows them to make money with them. See the FAQ for more details.
I cant help sharing one more that I created. Heres Martin Luther King Jr.s “I Have a Dream” speech:
Wordle is a fairly basic site, but the results are anything but basic. Go play. Youll catch the bug too.