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Word Clouds in classrooms: Turn a toy into a tool
October 9, 2016, 12:18 pm

The popularity of word clouds remains pretty constant in education, and it is not difficult to see why. They are a great way for students to distil and summarize information. They help students get to the crux of an issue, sorting through important ideas and concepts quickly in order to see what is important. And ‘see’ is the operative word here, because word clouds are certainly nice to look at. They speak fantastically to humans’ affinity for the visual, and are particularly useful for visual learners.

However, it is important to remember that the process of creating word clouds is just as important as the resulting resources. They are fun to make and do a great job engaging reluctant learners. Word clouds have tons of potential to be used in all types of ways.

Help students improve their vocabulary: As a teacher, one should be well aware that words are the building blocks of comprehension and cognition. In fact, research shows that students who have broad vocabularies achieve better scores on standardized tests and classroom assessments than students who have limited vocabularies. Word clouds are an excellent way to help students develop their vocabulary. You can ask them to write a list of traits for characters from the novel they are currently studying and then to use a thesaurus to come up with synonyms. These words can then be fed into a word cloud to create an excellent point of reference. The same can be applied to antonyms.

Use word clouds as a self-assessment tool when writing: For students to use broad vocabulary in their writing is great, but sometimes they tend to get caught up with so many words that they do not really say anything at all. Word clouds can help students develop a carefully considered vocabulary so that they are able to use the words that truly fit the purpose. Get your students to make a short list of the main ideas they are trying to convey in an essay that they have written. Then, have them written in a word cloud so that they can see whether these ideas actually came across as important. Once they have done it, they can cross check these lists to see if what they thought they were writing about actually made it into their writing.

Use word clouds as an activating strategy:  Ask your students to write down anything they can think of that might be related to a subject or even a concept. This will stimulate their thinking, and the resultant clouds can then be revisited at the end of a topic, and either amended or added to according to their knowledge.

Use word clouds as a ‘getting to know you’ tool: A great activity at the beginning of a new term is having your students use word clouds to describe their vacation. Once they have fed these lists into a word cloud generator, they can be used to demonstrate to others.

Help your students understand assessments: When it comes to assessments, half the battle is making sure your students understand what they are being asked, and once again, word clouds can help them do this. Start by handing over a rubric that articulates your expectations and lists assessment criteria, as well as describing levels of quality from excellent to poor. Ask your students to each make a list of the key words from your rubric, demonstrating what they understand the assessment criteria to be. They can then each put these lists into a word cloud, which can be compared and contrasted with yours so that they are able to see where they are lacking in understanding.

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