Monday, 21 July 2008

Using Wordle in the classroom

I’m addicted to Wordle and, in an attempt to justify the time I’ve spent on it lately, have come up with a few ideas for using it in literacy classes.

Wordle takes a list of words or a piece of text and creates a ‘word cloud’: the more times a word occurs in a text the larger it appears in the cloud. So, if you type ‘the [note lowercase initial letter] cat sat on the mat’ into Wordle the word ‘the’ appears (once) in a font twice the size of the other words.

I first came across Wordle about a month ago and I used it to create a thank you picture for all my site contributors. I extracted the names of all contributors (since January 2005) from the latest
popular downloads listing. I’ve just made a new one (above) which includes all contributors’ names up to July 16 2008. Of course this is just a bit of fun and it does not mean that those who make one or two contributions are any less appreciated than those who make dozens!

A month on since my first use and I see that several improvements have been added: Wordle can now strip out common (i.e. Dolch) words, accept text from live feeds (RSS / Atom) such as a Blog, and can display the word cloud in a separate window (this allows you take large screen grabs, as I have done here, using the Print Screen key).

So, if you ever wanted visible proof that Dolch words are indeed the most common words simply paste a piece of text into Wordle and select the ‘do not remove common words’ from the ‘language’ menu.

Using the live feed feature I input the first 500 (different) words from this blog and you can see the results here. One with Dolch words, one without.

The first thing I noticed was that the word 'numeracy’ does not appear. I’ll have to try to redress that in future posts!

You can do lots of other fancy things in Wordle such as click on and delete particular words from a cloud; play around with fonts and colours; choose between vertical , horizontal or mixed orientation; and ask for words to be in ‘mostly alphabetical order’.

So, to return to my opening sentence...
Here’s just a few ideas I came up with. None took me more than 5 or 10 minutes to prepare and I’m sure there are lots more possibilities - if you have any you’d like to share please let me know.

Write two sentences using as many of these words as you can. (Entry 2 upwards)

Use coloured pencils to circle the matching words. (Milestone 8 – Entry 1)

How many compound words can you make? Tip: the larger the word the more times you may be able to use it. (Entry 3 upwards) Answers at the bottom.

Which of these words and phrases would you be most likely to use in a formal letter? (Levels 1 and 2)

Now admittedly, you might be thinking that any of these could just as easily be created in a standard word processor. Well yes, they could, but if you have access to a data projector in your class room and have the text file ready to paste into Wordle you can create instant ‘exercises’ for your students. It adds a little pizzazz to the lesson and can prompt students to use Wordle for themselves – they could make up their own word games, devise lists of synonyms or difficult spellings, or perhaps even analyse their writing for word repetition.


This is the list of compound words I used for the resource above but there may well be other possible answers.


Anonymous said...

What a great resource. I have spent the last few days palaying with it. I will e-mail them to be addedd to the resources pages.

tilly said...

Hi Maggie,
I've just fallen in love with Wordle too! And like you, immediately thought of ways it would make great teaching materials - I have commented on the Wordle forum with an idea for using Wordle to spark a reading class and one of the Wordles for the text I used is called 'Good Essay Writing'. If anyone would like the original text please e-mail me ''

tilly said...

Sorry - realised that links would have been useful in the comment above - the discussion list with my classroom idea is here:
and the wordle itself is here:

Deb Loasby said...

I find it really useful as an introduction to a new topic, the children type in all the words they can think of connected to the topic, we wordle it, then at the end of the 6 weeks, we repeat the same exercise and compare the 2, a good form of self assessment. It also helps the children who are younger to realise the more important words in a topic ( I wordle the topic words from the QCA, use that as a cover for their work and keep referring to the texts as we go on. I really like using wordle too!

Maggie said...

Many thanks!

I'm going to use this idea for purpose (and features) of text work over the next couple of weeks.

If anyone else uses this idea in their classes please leave a comnment and tell us how it went.

tilly said...

Hi Maggie,
Although I posted this teaching idea on the Wordle forum I'll repeat it here too. I teach learners of English but I'm sure this would be useful for vocabulary enrichment with other learners too. I put the text of examples of a word in use from a CD ROM dictionary eg. the one for 'guilty' from Longman Exams Dictionary. This turns into a good resource for creating new sentences using that word as all the surrounding text is contextually relevant (crime, accused, ashamed, conscience etc) and also a good way of learning the commonest collocations in English. See where I kept the common words but excluded 'the' (thanks Maggie for the tip that this was possible - I discovered that right clicking did the trick) and where I excluded the common words (that is the default). I'm hoping my students will cotton on to this and post their newly learned vocabulary + dictionary definitions into wordle and make little posters they can put up in their rooms....I think it will really help in memorising the necessary prepositions etc (guilty OF a crime)...

Ms. Rogan said...

USE FOR A WORD SPLASHprereading/prelearnign activity. You can type in the words from a unit you are about the teach or a story/book you/they are going to read and have students look at the words and brainstorm what they think the unit/story/book is about. They define any of the words they do not know and then talk about the unit/story/book and why each word is important to the topic. Gets thei rbrains engaged pror to the learning/reading.

Maggie said...

Thanks to Mrs Eagen's comment I tried out the Word Splash idea with great success last week.

I wanted to read the latest Gatehouse book, Bob's Problem with my Entry 1-3 literacy group. The book is written by Margaret Adams (who is also a prolific and very good contributor to and is the second title in her wonderful "Supermarket Stories" series.

As I was lucky enough to have a pre-release PDF version of the book I copied all the words from Chapter 1 into Wordle and displayed the resulting cloud to the group before we started reading.

I then asked them to predict what the story was about - and they came up with some great suggestions, mostly involving cheese, milk and animals! (Bob in fact works in the dairy department of the supermarket).

I will put the word cloud and some more details in a separate blog post later this month.

Unknown said...

Students always wish to be unique from the other students. The words they use to speak and write are really important to bring out their ideas. Teachers should attempt to use word generators in the classroom to teach more new words. A wonderful site brings out the use of wordle in the classrooms.

Holly said...

Use Wordle for a fun twist for students when writing Spelling word! Students will look forward to getting their new Spelling words each week!

Unknown said...

I think that is so fantastic! That’s great that you can contribute to these meetings and the teachers take what you say and use it. This has been a wonderful class.

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Anonymous said...

Wordle is great resource for learning. I actualy use it with adult learners as a spelling tool and as a way to boost self-esteem by creating clouds of how the person feels they improved since they started coming to classes.

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