Remember Wordle? Extremely popular last July, the site makes word clouds from text passages. As the introduction on the site's homepage explains:
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. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes.
Dont dismiss it though. For English teachers, Wordle is far more than just a simple “toy.” Its a great analysis tool, as I reported last year.
A post last week on the ReadWriteWeb blog reminded me how wonderful the tool is at providing a snapshot of the key ideas behind a message. Author Marshall Kirkpatrick shares word clouds for President Obamas inaugural address alongside clouds for George W. Bushs, Bill Clintons, Ronald Reagans, and Abraham Lincolns inaugural addresses.
Take a look at the largest words in the images, and the issues that each president focuses on are obvious:
|President & Speech||Most Frequent Word|
The words alone are only part of the story, but they can point student readers toward the speeches with more information. The Wordle clouds are a remarkable prereading tool. First look at the map with students and discuss the words that stand out. Why would the speaker focus on those words? How do they predict the speaker will use them? What senses of the words will the speaker avoid? As they begin reading the addresses, students can look for the key terms and see whether their predictions were accurate and make note of how key words are used in different contexts within the text.
If you have already discussed Obamas address with the class, why not try the Wordle clouds for inaugural poems? There have been four poems written for U.S. presidential inaugurations, and there are a number of resources available for teaching these poems, including an Education World lesson, a Teacher Vision lesson, and a BITs post.
Begin your exploration of the poems with Wordle images like this one of Alexanders poem, or one of the other images linked below:
- Elizabeth Alexander's inaugural poem (2009)
- Miller Williams's inaugural poem (1997)
- Maya Angelou's inaugural poem (1993)
- Robert Frost's inaugural poem (1961) and the poem he recited
Ask students to explore how the words that stand out in the clouds for the poems might predict the themes and symbols that will be developed in the poems. As students analyze the poems more deeply, connect the poets use of repetition and word choice affects the message of the poems.
No matter how you use Wordle images, they're a great tool for exploring the ways that writers use words—and if the analysis engages students in a bit of fun, thats okay. Go ahead and call Wordle a toy. That wont stop students from engaging in a good bit of critical thinking!