Build Literacy Skills with Wordle

I’ve always been interested in quantitative displays of information. I’ve been having lots of fun with Wordle – a free website that creates “word clouds” (or “tag clouds”) for text analysis. Simply copy/paste text and in seconds Wordle gives you a visual representation of word frequency. The example below was created by analyzing all the words used in my blog in 2008. Click the screen shots below to enlarge.
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While you can directly type into the Wordle text box, I would recommend you copy and past text into it. That allows you to get text directly from online sources or your own text document. Student can either work on their individual Wordles or collaborate together on one. In the later case, it’s probably most efficient to gather all their writing into one text document before copy/pasting it into a Wordle. Use tilde sign to create phrases. Example: learning~strategies. Another tip: After you create a Wordle, right click a term to remove it from the Wordle results. 

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The site allows you to modify the color scheme, font, alignment and even set the maximum number of words to include in the analysis (example top 100 words, top 50 words, etc) For inspiration on layout see these Wordle samples at Flickr

Wordle output – If you PDF generating software, you can “print” a Wordle to a PDF file. Or you can do a screen capture of the Wordle. Do live Wordles on your smartboard. For a how-to on screenshots click here.

So how could your students use Wordle?
Defining  skills – Before the dictionary comes out, give your students a new vocabulary word and ask them to brainstorm all the word they associate with it. Gather up all the brainstormed words for a Wordle. After the term has been formally defined, repeat the process and compare to the “pre-dictionary” Wordle.

Summarizing skills – As a pre-reading exercise – copy/paste text of reading into  a Wordle and ask students to predict what the main ideas of the reading will be. Another pre-reading option – give them a Wordle of a non-fiction reading and ask them to use the Wordle to generate a title or headline before they see the real article. Post reading – ask them to reflect on the reading based on a prompt (examples – main idea, what you’ve learned, funniest element, etc). Then collect all their reflections into a Wordle.

Comparison skills – Give them two different accounts / essays on the same theme / event – let them compare the Wordles generated by each. Or you could generate Wordles for two different reading – then let student see if they can match the Wordle to it’s corresponding reading.

I’ve been collaborating with fellow educators on a Google Doc guide to using Wordle in the classroom

Visualizing Data and Text – A Comparison Learning Strategy that Works

Comparing is the most powerful instructional strategy you can use in the classroom. But it's the person who does the comparing that's learning. Therefore, we must ask students to develop the comparison, not just learn and repeat the model that we present to them. (Remember, asking a student to fill out a Venn diagram that you created, is just a graphic form of information filing). After they have designed their comparison, students should also be asked to share what they learned.  A major component of 21st century literacy is finding meaningful ways to share information with others.

Many Eyes is a great new website that gives teachers and students a chance to easily use sophisticated graphic tools to analyze data and create interactive displays. Those who register at the site can use 16 visualization types to present data. My favorite visualization is the "Wordle," which enables you to see how frequently words appear in uploaded text, or see the relationship between a column of words and a column of numbers. You can tweak your word "clouds" with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes. Why not have your students use Wordle to analyze a selection of non-fiction text to uncover the main ideas and key vocabulary of the piece? Or they could compare text from different sources. Want your students to more fully understand your course content? Let them use Many Eyes to visualize and discover patterns as a catalyst for discussion and collective insights about information, text, and data. As they say at Many Eyes, "Finding the right way view your data is as much an art as a science. The visualizations provided on Many Eyes range from the ordinary to the experimental."

Here's a few examples of the same data in three different Wordle visualizations that analyze the frequency of words in 30 school district mission / vision statements. 

Click on images to enlarge.


The original data and was uploaded to Many Eyes by PPreuss and used to create the visualization above.  I modified the existing online data set mission / vision statement words with the Wordle tools to represent the same data in different layouts and styles. In this second version (below)  I limited the analysis to the top 100 words.


Here's a third representation of the same source data that analyzes 2-word clusters and displays their frequency in alphabetical layout. Below is  a screen shot of the Tag Cloud, but in its original form at Many Eyes, when I click on any of the word clusters,  a pop-up shows the context of how the cluster is used in different sentences from the source mission / vision statements.

Wow! Looks like we educators have a lot on our plates. Personally I think we might want to admit our mission / vision may simply be  "Trying Hard Not To Become Obsolete."