Friday, January 30, 2009


I'm not as big of a Wordle enthusiast as some educators, but there are two main features that grab your attention:

1. It's quick
2. It's easy

Even if you haven't heard of wordle, you probably know what it is. It is a free online tool that generates "word clouds" from passages. You can give it a website, a blog, a set of tags from delicious, or even cut and paste your own passage in.

The site scans the text and visually represents the frequency of the words, the more often used, the bigger relative size of the word. The one above is of the Newell-Fonda post from Tuesday.

As a visual learner, I can tell you this type of representation resonates for me, getting to the heart of the importance of meaning. It certainly can be used as a discussion starter (as this inauguration address comparison between Obama, Bush, Clinton, Reagan, and Lincoln shows).

There are two caveats I would say to using this in education. One, the site's creator Jonathan Feinberg mentions several times that this site cannot edit for obscenities... what goes in, comes out. This shouldn't be too much of a problem if teachers are proofing sources before the activity.

Two, as with all quality instruction, this is just a tool, a means to an end, not the end itself. When asked what she was doing in her next unit, one excited teacher mentioned the kids were making a wordle, as though it were an iMovie or website. Which of course is not appropriate integration. Wordle is a quick tool to be "worked on" by student for 5 minutes at the most. As I said before, its power is a quick visualization and the discussion and analysis that follows.

That said, this is how I have seen it used effectively in classrooms:
  • Students analyzing word usage in their own essays or speeches
  • Students using the wordle to predict the theme of an upcoming short story or main idea of an upcoming article
  • Students checking their understanding of main idea after reading the story/article
  • The teacher summarizing an online chat or forum discussion that the class used
  • Teachers using summaries of news sites for an access point to a current events discussion
  • Students finding words posted in the school to identify what are the school's core values

Anything that allows students to use frequency of terminology as a point for analysis can benefit from the tool, though. Fellow edublogger Rodd Lucier has a creative list of ideas as well.

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