Web 2.0 and Emerging Learning Technologies/Wordle

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Wordle is a free Web 2.0 Google App Engine (a platform for developing and hosting web applications in Google data centers) on-line application for generating “word clouds” from any text that is provided. It was created by an IBM researcher, Jonathan Feinberg.

It uses the frequency of occurrence of a word in the text to determine its size. The text can be edited by modifying the clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color scheme for the background and the font. Then, an image is generated and can be used for different purposes:

  • it can be printed out;
  • it can be saved to the Wordle gallery to share it with other Internet users;
  • the embed code found next to the created picture in the gallery can be used to insert the image in a blog, wiki or webpage;
  • it can also be saved as an image in the hard drive by using the computer’s screen capture (Print Screen) and then copying that screen capture to a software programmer like Paint or Photoshop to save it as graphic;
  • the screen capture may also be copied directly to other programmes such as a Word document or Powerpoint.

Wordle uses Java, a computer programming language which allows you to play online games, chat with people, view images in 3D, etc. As a result, Java's applets have to be enabled in your browser so as to be able to use Wordle.


How Wordle’s webpage is composed of:

Up above in the home page, the following hyperlinks can be found:

  • Home: it leads Internet users to the main page.
  • Create: it provides a link to the actual page in which the Wordles can be made.
  • Gallery: it directs Internet users to the gallery which shows other users’ creations with this application.
  • Credits: it mainly includes the author’s acknowledgments to other people that collaborated with him to make the page.
  • News: it leads Internet users to a blog in which further matters related to Wordle are posted and commented.
  • Forum: it provides a list of links to different topics posted and commented by Wordle users.
  • FAQ: it is the Frequent Asked Questions section; it is very complete and useful.
  • Advanced: it leads Internet users to a page in which more sophisticated “Wordles” can be created, as weighted words or phrases can be pasted there and then their colour and size can be changed; the background colour can also be specified by using hex codes (as a result, it is not recommended for Wordle-beginners).

In addition, there are several other links that lead Internet users to some “Wordles” created by other people, to the Wordle’s creator, to the “Terms of Use” and to the “Subscribe” link in which recent “Wordles” can be seen.

The following are examples of "Wordles" made by Internet users; these and others can be seen in the Gallery in http://www.wordle.net/

These are the titles and authors of the pictures above: 1) Wordle, by Group#10; 2) Declaration of Independence, by Anonymous; 3) Lincoln Bicentennial 1, by Anonymous; and 4) Words I can't spell, by Anonymous.


Teaching and Learning Possibilities

Because this application gives greater prominence to the most frequent words from the supplied text, the word clouds create a great learning visual for students: these reduce a text to its essential elements, allowing learners to approach it in a more accessible way. As a result, Wordle makes the process of working with texts more motivating. These clouds can be then made into posters, for instance.

As Wordle is in an electronic format, it can be easily transferred to a number of other media such as paper, interactive whiteboards, blogs, wikis, etc.

The word clouds this application creates can facilitate teachers and students’ approaches to texts in different ways:

  • as a reading comprehension tool, Wordle can be used by the teacher, for instance, in two different ways:

a) as a pre-reading activity: as the more frequent terms will show up bigger than others, students can make predictions about the reading (e.g.: plot lines, characters, genre, themes, etc.); and b) as a post-reading activity: students can create a summary of the text they have been working on. They may be even asked to keep a list of the words they believe are important/relevant in the passage, so they can show their own opinions or feelings about what they have read.

  • As regards the writing process, students can use this application to check the frequency of word usage in their own writings (i.e. if they are overusing words).
  • Brainstorming is a general use of the word clouds; it can also take place before, during or after a reading, and for opinions, feelings, vocabulary terms, etc.
  • It can also be used to compare and evaluate the different kinds of vocabulary employed in tabloid and broadsheet newspapers for a same article.
  • Wordle may be a useful way to get students introduce themselves at the beginning of the school term. They could create a word cloud which reflects their hobbies, interests, family members, favourite films and books, etc. Learners may also add their dreams and aspirations for the future: some time later, if they did so, they could create another word cloud, which could be used to see if there have been some shifts in those goals and/or ambitions.
  • Focusing on Grammar: When working with any text, the teacher can use Wordle to list the most relevant words in white; and once this has been done, the students would have to classify the words according to their grammatical categories by simply using different colours.
  • After reading a text, the teacher can ask the students to use Wordle to get the most important words of it; and then, work in groups, discussing to eliminate everything but the central ideas.
  • The teacher can ask the students to write a list of personal values, and then use Wordle with all the words they wrote, to see which ones are the most common, and talk about why they think those are so popular, and what they think about the rest.
  • Wordle can be used to analyse a famous speech (e.g. Martin Luther King's “I have a dream” speech). By highlighting the most frequent words, students can easily find the main themes, and then discuss about why are those the most frequent words and not others.
  • The teachers can use Wordle to carry out a poll on student's thoughts about how people are in their country, or the things they would like to change to make the world a better place to live in.
  • This application can be used to foster friendship: the teacher can ask the students to write at least one positive characteristic about each of their classmates. Then, finally, everyone should use Wordle to list all the good qualities that their classmates find in them.
  • When working with a movie, the script can be found on the Web and, by using Wordle, the students can focus on the most common expressions in different situations (e.g. colloquial English, medical English, business English, etc.)


Example Links

"The Power of Tags, The Power of Words" - Wordle Tutorial by Bob Sprankle

http://bobsprankle.com/bitbybit_wordpress/?p=461

This “Wordle Tutorial” is very complete as it explains what this application is and how to tackle it, shows us how to create a word cloud and give it format, and gives us several ideas to use it.


"Creating a Wordle" - YouTube Video

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fiWeh208RvM

This is a tutorial in which a Wordle is created and then, we are shown how to insert it into a blog.


"Wordle: Using word clouds in a lesson"

http://www.boxoftricks.net/?p=103

This website provides us with one lesson plan in which Wordle was used.


"Wordle's Gallery"

http://www.wordle.net/gallery

This is the gallery of Wordle’s official page. It displays the most recent word clouds done but, by pressing the button called “Older”, we can access to the older “Wordles”.


“Nik's Learning Technology Blog”

http://nikpeachey.blogspot.com/2008/09/using-word-clouds-in-efl-esl.html

This is a blog which provides examples about different ways Wordle can be used in ESL and EFL. It also explains how to create the word clouds.