Language activities with Wordle and word clouds

Levels: elementary to advanced.
Ages: kids; teens; adults.
Type: quite a few uses for the famous word cloud generator, and some links to many more.
Skills: listening; speaking; reading; writing; pronunciation.
Language focus: various vocabulary and grammar points.

Note: See this post for an introduction to working with Wordle.

Grammar activities with Wordle

Ordering sentence parts

  • Find an interesting text, such as a news article, online; copy and paste (some of) it into Wordle. The example below comes from this story from the BBC. I’ve enclosed the text, as I typed it, underneath, so you can see how a tilde (“~”) keeps two words together in the word cloud.

    textordering.jpg

    The original text:

    A~pizzeria~owner~in~Pennsylvania
    sought~to~sabotage~competing~shops
    by~infesting~them~with~mice
    police~say.
    Nikolas~Galiatsatos
    has~been~charged~with
    animal~cruelty~and~other~offences
    in~Upper~Darby
    near~Philadelphia
    He~was~arrested
    after~officers~found
    a~man~had~stuffed~a~sack~containing~live~mice
    into~the~space
    above~a~ceiling~panel
    in~a~pizzeria~bathroom

  • Distribute the word clouds and elicit what the story might be about.
  • In pairs, ask your students to reconstruct the text.
  • Hand out copies of the text so your students can see how they fared, or dictate it and ask them to have another try.
  • This could lead into a news-based listening lesson, a writing task based on the news report, work on linkers, etc.

Questions from wordled parts

  • Make a word cloud from questions incorporating a grammar point you’d like to revise. It’s probably best to turn off “Remove common words” in the “Language menu” after you’ve generated your Wordle. In the example below, I’ve chosen some second conditional questions.

    conditionals-wordle.jpg

  • Give out the word clouds, one per pair or small group of students. Tell them how many questions there are and explain that, the larger the word, the more often it is used in the questions. Ask them to unscramble the questions.
  • Go through the questions with the class. The ones I created for my example were:

    If you had a million dollars, what would you buy?
    If a genie granted you three wishes, what would you wish for?
    Would you prefer to live in a city or the countryside?
    If you could have dinner with anyone from history, who would you choose?
    If you could choose either to live forever or to have children, which would you choose?

  • Perhaps ask each pair or small group to write five more questions using the same grammatical construct.
  • Each member of the pair or small group finds another student. They ask and answer the questions while you monitor and take notes for a subsequent language feedback session.

Find the odd one out

  • Before class, type some sentences with a grammatical form you’d like your students to revise. Turn these into cloze sentences, with gaps where the instance of the form would go.
  • Make a word cloud using both the words from the gaps and some other words which grammatically don’t fit.
  • In class, board or project the cloze sentences.
  • Hand out the word clouds to your students, or display it next to the cloze task. Ask your students (in pairs or small groups) to decide which words can go in the gaps, and which cannot.
  • Check as a class.
  • This might lead into writing or speaking activities using the words or sentences from the board.

Listening activities with Wordle

Words from a text

  • Find a short-ish text and create a word cloud from some of its key words or dates. I recommend choosing a white background and only a few key words for this. The example below derives from this story from the BBC News website.

    news-wordle-reduced.jpg

  • Hand out copies of the word cloud to pairs of your students, tell them what type of text it is (e.g., a news story) and ask them to predict what the contents will be.
  • Get some feedback and check and vocabulary. Then hand out further copies of the word cloud, so that each of your students has one.
  • Ask your students to listen for the key words and make notes to help them remember the content of the text. Then read out the text at a natural pace.
  • In pairs, ask your students to compare the stories they heard. You could re-pair the students and repeat this stage.
  • Give out copies of the text for your students and ask them to read it and compare it with their notes, then go through any unknown vocabulary; or, if the text is fairly short, ask them to work in pairs/small groups to recreate it, using their notes and the word cloud.

News headlines

  • As above (“words from a text”), only this time you’ll need to record a news bulletin (I usually use the BBC News Headlines here) and make a word cloud from the headlines. Again, a white background to your Wordled headlines seems best.
  • Give out the word cloud and ask pairs or small groups of students to decide what the stories are, and in what order they will be reported by the (BBC) news station.
  • Get some feedback, then board “who? what? where? when?” Ask your students to note the answers to these questions for each of the stories, as they listen.
  • Play the recording, then pair your students and ask them to compare notes. You could repeat this procedure with new pairs if you like.
  • After a second listening, and another discussion in pairs, get some feedback from the class.
  • This could lead into a discussion about news values, or one or more of the stories from the news broadcast, etc.

Reading activities with Wordle

Predicting texts

  • Display a Wordled image of a short text and invite your class to guess its genre and content. For example, do you think the word cloud below was a poem, a short article, part of a conversation, or what? And what do you think was the theme of the original text?

    Love-Dickinson-reduced-Wordle.jpg

  • After hearing some ideas, you could elicit or teach any unknown vocabulary, then give the students the original text (mine was Wild Nights by Emily Dickinson – see below for the full text). This could lead into a text reconstruction activity (whereby you reclaim copies of the original and ask students to reconstruct it using the word cloud, maybe working in pairs or small groups), or a discussion or creative writing activity based on the text, its stylistic devices or its theme.

    Wild Nights by Emily Dickinson
    Wild nights. Wild nights!
    Were I with thee,
    Wild nights should be
    Our luxury!

    Futile the winds
    To a heart in port
    Done with the compass
    Done with the chart.

    Rowing in Eden.
    Ah, the sea.
    Might I but moor
    Tonight with thee!

Comparing texts

Find short examples of different text types – perhaps with a common theme – via an internet search engine. Wordle the examples separately, creating one word cloud for each text. Below is a word cloud made from the final two paragraphs of a popular psychology article. It can be compared and contrasted with the Emily Dickinson word cloud, above.

love-psychology-reduced.jpg

The original text is below:

A relationship begins with knowing someone, and the state of what you know controls the other dynamics. Your knowledge of someone grows with mutual self-disclosure and diverse experiences together, shared together over time. It’s important to see the way your partner functions in a variety of settings—with friends, with family, with bosses and coworkers, with strangers, with children.

There are five crucial areas to deeply explore and come to know during the dating process:

* Family background and childhood dynamics
* Attitudes and actions of the conscience and maturity
* The scope of your compatibility potential
* The examples of other relationship patterns
* Strength of relationship skills.

These are the areas that best predict what a person will be like as a spouse and parent. Using this approach, Van Epp insists, you can follow your heart without losing your mind.
Taken from Love Isn’t Blind by Hara Estroff Marano, Psychology Today magazine, 29 April 2005. URL=http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200505/love-isnt-blind

Display these to your students and ask them to guess what the text type is. This can lead into extended reading activities. For example, divide your students into groups and give one original text to each group; groups then have to read the text; regroup your students so that each group has readers of all the texts and ask them to explain to each other what they read about, using the Wordled images as prompts. This can then lead into a class discussion of the vocabulary and other textual features of each text: what marks them as being of a particular type? Such discussion would naturally lead into a writing task.

Reading round a topic

Go online and find an interesting short text or paragraph about a topic you wish to work on in class. Wordle the text – probably removing all common words via the “Language” menu – and display it to your class. The one below is about the political history of Libya, and comes from the “Africa Travel” section of about.com’s site.

wordle-libya-reduced.jpg

Ask your students to guess the topic. Afterwards, distribute copies of the word cloud to each pair or small group of students. Ask each group to discuss why the words occur: what do they refer to? Each group can then go online and find out more information about the topic. This can lead into a written pooling of information, coursebook work, etc.

Speaking activities with Wordle

Class introductions

This can be an excellent way to introduce yourself to your class, and your students to each other. See this post for a guide to this activity.

Discussion prompts

  • Wordle some topics your students might find interesting to talk about, as per the example below.

    wordle-speaking-topics.jpg

  • Distribute the word clouds amongst your students and either ask them to make questions based on the prompts (which could subsequently be boarded and checked for grammar and vocab) to ask other students in the class, or (with high-level students) simply to ask questions to their partner using the words in the cloud as prompts.
  • This naturally leads into content and language feedback.

Ordering questions

  • Think of some questions you’d like your students to discuss, or lift some from the coursebook.
    Wordle each question and stick the word clouds around the walls.
  • In pairs or small groups, ask your students to walk around the classroom and unscramble the questions.
  • After some brief feedback, they can then discuss these questions in their groups or pairs.

Vocabulary activities with Wordle

Translation match

If you have a monolingual class, you could Wordle a mixture of English words on a particular theme and their L1 equivalents. Ask your students to match the English words with those from their L1. This could lead into pronunciation work, coursebook work, etc.

Word families

Make a word cloud of various adjectives, nouns, noun phrases and maybe verbs and adverbs, to do with a particular theme. Hand out copies to each pair or small group of your students. Ask them to sort the words into categories. This can lead into a discussion activity (based on questions the students create based on the vocabulary in your word cloud), coursebook work, and so on.

Mixed topics

As above, with the Word Families idea, except this time make a word cloud of words from one new topic and words from a topic from previous lessons. Distribute the clouds to each pair of students, or each small group. This time, ask them to sort the words and expressions into two columns, depending on whether they are more associated with one topic or the other (for example, one column could be for expressions and words to do with health; another could be for words and expressions related to food). Ask each group to compare their work with another and try to agree on a final list. Again, this might lead into a discussion activity, as above, to a writing task, etc.

Phrasal verb discovery

Wordle some phrasal or multiword verbs to do with a particular topic, or with a particular particle (for example, health-related verbs or verbs with the particle “up”). Write some cloze sentences with gaps where some phrasal verbs from your word cloud should go. Distribute the word clouds – one per pair of students or small group – and ask them to work together to find as many phrasal or multiword verbs as they can within a time limit. Check together, boarding the verbs (this can be illuminating, as often students will find phrasal verbs you never intended to be in the cloud) and allow your students to make any notes they like on the vocabulary. Then ask them to work together to do the cloze task, using (some of) the phrasal verbs on the board. This might usefully lead into a discussion activity based on questions the students formulate using the phrasal verbs from the cloze task or the board.

Idiom discovery

As above (“Phrasal verb discovery”) but using idioms on a particular theme instead of the phrasal or multiword verbs.

Writing activities with Wordle

Automatic writing prompts from existing texts

  • Think of a story you’d like to share with your students. Type out the key words and Wordle the result. The example below comes from a story I often tell when revising narrative forms with my class. What do you think the story is?

    ghost-story-reduced.jpg

  • Show the word cloud to your students and ask them to predict what the story is. Then, using the key words, ask them (either individually or in pairs/small groups) to write a story using these words.
  • Students can then listen to your story and compare it with theirs; afterwards, you can look at (some of) the grammatical structures used in your story, ask your students to revise their own in light of the grammar work, then tell their stories to each other in small groups.
  • Groups could then choose a favourite story to read to the class, who can in turn decide on a favourite.
  • All the stories could subsequently be displayed.

Essay topic generator

Wordle some possible essay topics or titles. Using the wordled image, ask your students to choose an essay title for themselves. They can write the essays either in class or for homework.

Recreating short poems

  • Find a short poem – haikus are perfect for this – and turn it into a word cloud. You can find examples at the Haikus for People site.
  • Distribute the cloud amongst your students, eliciting that it is the text of a poem and ask them (individually or in pairs/small groups) to recreate it.
  • Your students efforts can then be compared with the original.
  • This activity suggests a pronunciation-based follow-up, perhaps with your students choosing their favourite poems, adding pauses and deciding which words to emphasise, and then reciting them aloud.
  • The Emily Dickinson poem above (“Predicting texts” in “Reading Activities”) might work here as a prompt.

Other Ideas for Using Wordle:

Acknowledgements: many of the ideas herein come from Nik Peachey’s Learning Technology Blog post on Wordle, and from a teacher development session given by Anna Pires of IH Braga, Portugal.

2 thoughts on “Language activities with Wordle and word clouds

  1. Great post Simon! Really handy! In fact I think I’ll nick it if that’s ok!

    Anna Pires works at IH Braga though, not Torres Vedras, and it was indeed her that gave the seminar.

    David

  2. Hi David

    Good to hear from you! Of course, you’re welcome to use any or all of the stuff from my post (properly attributed, of course, if it’s for a seminar/your site, etc!) Thanks a lot for the correction about where Anna Pires works – I’ll amend my post accordingly.

    How’s the MA going?

    All best wishes to you and your family

    Simon

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