Thursday, August 18, 2011

Word Clouds in the FL Classroom

Tonight's #langchat topic (boy was it good to be back!) was web 2.0 tools in the FL classroom.  A tool that came up was word clouds.  I checked my trusty "idea wiki" and found a number of possible applications for word clouds that I hadn't yet explored, so I thought a blog post was in order.

Word clouds are something that I really didn't understand -- even up to the first time I used them with my students. My first application was to have students choose 20 words (about a francophone country they were researching), enter them into the text box, and create their word cloud.  Not very clever at all -- especially given what I have learned since then!

So I'm going to start with the suggestions from #langchat.  The first one (courtesy of Katie Aebersold @klafrench) stunned me with its simplicity.  I doubt there are very many FL teachers out there who are not familiar with the flyswatter game.  Project a word cloud onto a whiteboard, and swat away!  Love it!

The next idea (courtesy of Sara Cottrell @SECottrell) is to select vocabulary from an authentic text, show it to students via word cloud prior to having them approach the text itself, and have them hypothesize about the topic.

The last (courtesy of Don Doehla @dr_dmd) is to post select vocabulary in a word cloud, and use the word cloud as a writing prompt.  There was some concern that this idea lacked authenticity, but in my opinion, it could be an effective bellringer activity, activating the vocabulary for students at the start of class.

Moving on from the #langchat discussion, the next idea is original, but the rest originated from 101 ways to use tagxedo (Hardy Leung).  I will offer these ideas, but "tweaked" a bit for the FL classroom.

I see word clouds as a way for beginning students to build circumlocution skills.  Students could be assigned a vocabulary word, and create a word cloud of related words.  Classmates would need to identify the source word from the word cloud.

Students could create a self-portrait word cloud using tagxedo (which allows customized shapes created from your pictures).  The words could come from a paragraph in the target language that students write introducing themselves.  This word cloud could then be used as a SM avatar.

I really like the next one for reviewing and expanding adjective vocabulary:

  • Make a list of 100 values or personality traits

  • Each person give a score for each value (0-100)
    • Love:100 Coolness:50 Control:20 Flexibility:70

  • Feed the data to Tagxedo
    • Use the "Deja Vu" option, show maximum 50 words

  • Normalize Frequency - forcing a ranking

  • Make Tagxedoes and compare

  • The next one Leung calls "Collective Wisdom".  It involves asking a question, and soliciting short answers.  The responses are then collected and used to form the cloud.  This idea immediately makes me think of a website called VYou.  Students could each come up with their own question, and record a video of themselves asking the question, and send it to their classmates, who would respond to either all classmates' questions, or a specific number of classmates' questions.  This would incorporate oral work, listening, and writing.

    The last idea comes from 64 Interesting Ideas for Class Blog Posts, and combines another web 2.0 tool with word clouds.  It's a brainstorming activity involving  Answergarden is another sort of polling tool, but the responses can be exported into wordle.  Sadly, it appears that answers must be typed in via computer, and cannot be texted, but it could be a neat homework assignment that would set up into a future lesson.

    One of the great things about blogging, is that it helps me to process so many of the ideas that percolate through this imperfect brain of mine.  If you have underestimated the usefulness of word clouds like I have, I hope this has been helpful.

    What do you think?

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