Wordle, Word Clouds and Why They Work!

Analysing large blocks of text, comparing versions of stories and evaluating the content of websites are common tasks given to students each day. For many students, facing a dense block of text is overwhelming. Enter the tag cloud – a fabulous resource for enhancing literacy, creating beautiful artworks and generally having fun with language! 

Tag cloud generators convert blocks of text into a cloud of words, and provide a variety of tools to assist students identify key words, important themes, competing ideas or hidden agendas. There are a number of tag cloud generators available online, each with their strengths and weaknesses. This post explores several of them, suggesting ways they may be used in the classroom, and why they are a valuable literacy tool.

The tools discussed below are Wordle, ABC Ya, Tagul, Tagxedo and Wordsift.

1.Wordle – (http://www.wordle.net)

Wordle is perhaps the best known of the tag cloud generators. It creates beautiful tag clouds that are as attractive as they are useful. In weighting each word by usage, Wordle word clouds allow for easy analysis of text, as the most commonly used words are the largest.

Wordle allows users to change layout, font and colour, and has options to remove common words and numbers.

While it is easy to print a Wordle, saving the word cloud for future use or inclusion in other documents requires the use of the Print Screen button, or a screen capture tool such as Jing.

Wordle comes into its own when used to compare texts – such as Wayne Swan’s 2011 budget speech, and Tony Abbot’s budget reply, seen below.

Text of Wayne Swan's Budget 2011 speech

Text of Tony Abbott's Budget 2011 reply

In summary:

• No email address or login required

• Simple to use

• Several options to edit appearance

• Requires additional tools to save completed Wordle

2. ABC Ya – (http://www.abcya.com/word_clouds.htm)

ABC Ya Word Clouds are very similar to Wordle, but feature a colourful and simple interface designed specifically for primary school aged students.

There is no log-in required, so users do not need an email address, and printing and saving the finished product is as simple as clicking the button below the cloud.

Red Riding Hood using ABC Ya

In summary:

• No email address or login required

• Simple to use

• Aimed at younger users

• Easy to save

3. Tagul – (http://tagul.com/)

Unfortunately the need to register prior to use may limit Tagul’s audience, as users require an email address and must remember a username and password. However, Tagul offers several different features including the ability to create a word cloud in different shapes and to animate the text.

If embedding the finished word cloud into a web page or blog, users can tag the words so that they act as hyperlinks to websites, making Tagul wordclouds a creative way of directing students to particular sites of interest.

Red Riding Hood Tagul style

In summary:

• Email address and log in required

• Different shape word clouds possible

• Creates hyperlinked and animated wordclouds

• Simple to save, print or share

4. Tagxedo – (http://www.tagxedo.com/app.html)

Tagxedo is in Beta at the moment, so many features that will become available only for paid users are currently free.

While Tagxedo takes a little more practise than some of the other generators, it does offer a wider range of options to create very artistic and beautiful clouds.

Tagxedo allows users to create tag clouds in any shape (many standard shapes are provided, with the option to upload your own) and currently users can upload any font or colour scheme they choose.

It also provides many different printing and saving options, in a range different resolution levels and formats.

Tagxedo is possibly of more use in creating works of art than for analysing text, however the way students choose to create their cloud may provide insight into their understanding of the text.

Wolf-shaped Red Riding Hood tag cloud by Tagxedo

In summary:

• No email or login required

• More complex and therefore may take longer to learn

• Wide array of creation options

• Strength is in artistic representations of text rather than analysis

5. Wordsift – (http://www.wordsift.com/)

Created by Stanford University, Wordsift is not so much for creating beautiful word clouds as practical ones with features such as the ability to list words in order of frequency or in alphabetical order, as well as allowing  users to click on words to view a visual thesaurus entry and matching Google images. These tools make WordSift terrific for great for decoding activities.

Having been created in a University environment, Wordsift is backed by research, with an interesting article available highlighting underlying theories for using such a tool to enhance vocabulary development and therefore reading skills. There is also information for teachers available as well.

WordSift analyses text using multiple tools

In summary:

• No email or log in required

• Visual thesaurus and Google images accompany word cloud for richer discussion/understanding

• Suited for older users

• Designed for use as a tool rather than image creator

Of course as with any Web 2.0 tool, many variations abound. If none of these tag cloud generators fit your bill, why not try:

TagCrowd – http://tagcrowd.com/

VocabGrabber – http://www.visualthesaurus.com/vocabgrabber/#

TagCloud Generator – http://www.tag-cloud.de/

More resources on word clouds and their uses in the classroom can be found below:

5 thoughts on “Wordle, Word Clouds and Why They Work!

  1. Dear Kay,

    I am really enjoying the new, user-friendly format of ResourceLink’s Portal. All of our team meetings involving the to and fro of creative and functional ideas combined with your digital expertise, persistence and hard work have delivered a quality portal. BCEO staff and BCE teachers will find it much easier to access, use and develop further resources and information from this portal. Well done Kay!


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