Monday, December 20, 2010

What's the Use of Word Clouds?

Someone asked me the other day, "What's the use of a word cloud?" I admit it, I love word clouds. There's something very satisfying to me in being able to create images that shows words in different ways, different sizes, fonts and colours. I've written about programs that help us generate word clouds like Tagxedo, Wordle, ABCYa, and even given instructions for how to add pictures to a wordle.

If you're new to the whole word cloud idea, here's my explanation of a wordle:

It’s a word cloud generated online. You put in text of your own, and Wordle does the rest. It’s fun to play, generating different fonts, colours and lay outs. The randomize button generates many different configurations of your very own wordle. There’s a gallery at the Wordle website to see others’ creations, a forum (some spam there, supervision necessary), and an associated blog by the Wordle creator, Jonathan Feinberg.

What use are wordles? Here are some of my ideas:
  • After kids have played with Wordle, consider using it as a way for them to revise/learn spelling words. 
  • Wordles could be created with family members’ names, and form the basis for cards or calendars. 
  • Baby’s first words would make an interesting wordle. 
  • Beginning readers might like to make a wordle of their recently learnt sight words. 
  • For writers who are just starting out, a wordle can be a fun schematic representation of their favourite words. 
  • You could use a wordle for labels in a room, or name tags. Just type in one word!
  • Generate a wordle with each student's name in it, print and paste it onto your classroom door as an introduction. 
  • Have kids list the things they like, then manipulate the wordle by repeating text to give it larger font. This would be an interesting activity to do with favourite books, movies, songs, friends' names etc.
If you want to generate a phrase or sentence as opposed to single words, the way I did in the wordle above, use the tilde (~) on your keyboard between words and Wordle will put them alongside each other. 

I also figured out how to use Wordle Advanced today. In the second box down, put your word/words followed by a colon, next to that add the number of times you want the word repeated, followed by a colon, then add the colour as a hexadecimal colour code. So for instance, to make the red BookChook in my second image, I typed:BookChook:50:FF0000. 

Find more ideas from Terry Freedman at The Educational Technology Site: ICT in Education, in Larry Ferlazzo's article, The Best Resources for Learning about Word Clouds, and from Lisa MacKenzie at Ideas For Teachers. 

Why not make a word cloud with your kids and use it as a card? You could use family names, greetings in other languages, favourite quotes or seasonal words like I did. 


  1. I have used word clouds to help students spot and discuss the main idea in their reading (highlight/copy/paste the text). I have also used it for students to create word clouds of phonics word families. For example all "oa" words in one word cloud all "oo" in another. Great fun!

  2. The Book Chook20 December, 2010

    It's amazing how versatile a tool it is, Kelly. Thanks so much for adding these great ideas!

  3. I definitely am a big fan of word clouds

  4. The Book Chook21 December, 2010

    It's hard to explain their fascination, but I find them very satisfying and versatile. Glad to hear you're a fan too, Christine!


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