Using Word Clouds in EFL ESL

I've just discovered Wordle, which is a really useful site for creating word clouds. The word clouds are created by entering either a text, URL or user name into a field. The site then generates a word cloud based on the frequency of key words in the text or webpage.

Here's what a word cloud based on the URL of this blog looks like.

The word clouds are really easy to create and can be printed up for classroom use or saved to a gallery on line. To see how this is done watch the tutorial movie below.
How to use this with EFL ESL students
This is a wonderful flexible tool to use with students.
  • Revision of texts - You can paste in short texts that your students have studied recently. Show them the word cloud and see if they can remember what the text was about and how the words were used within the text. You can build up a bank of word clouds over a semester and pull them out at random to get students to recall the texts they have studied and the key vocabulary in them. You could also see if they could rewrite or reconstruct the text based on the word cloud.
  • Prediction - You can create word clouds of texts before the students read or listen and ask them to make predictions about the content of the text based on the word cloud. They could also check any new words from the word cloud that they are unsure of before they read or listen.
  • Dialogue reconstruction - You can create a word cloud of a dialogue students are studying and use it as a prompt to remember or reconstruct the dialogue.
  • Short poems / Haiku - You can generate a word cloud from a short poem or Haiku, then ask students to create their own work based on the word cloud. They could then see how close they came to the original.
  • Text comparison - You can create word clouds from a number text genres (news article, poem, story, advertisement, dialogue etc.) and then see if the students can decide which genre each is from and why. You could also do this with a small collection of poems short stories or articles. Then students could read the complete texts and match them to the word clouds. Here are two poems. One is from Shakespeare and the other is from Robert Frost. Try to decide which one is from Shakespeare. How did you know?

  • Personal information - You could get your students to each create a text about themselves and then turn it into a word cloud. You could them put the clouds up around the class and see if the students could identify each other from the cloud. They could exchange clouds and use them to introduce each other.
  • Topic research tasks - You can create a word cloud based around a topic you want students to research. You could use a page from Wikipedia to do this, then use it to find out what students already know about the topic by asking what they think the relevance of each of the word is to the overall topic. They could then go to Wikipedia and find out more. Then report back on their findings using the key words as prompts. Here's an example I created by cutting and pasting the intro text on Cairo
  • Learner training - This is a good tool for students to use regularly to help themselves. They can regularly make copies of the texts they study and pin them up to revise them or keep them in their gallery on the site. They could even create word clouds of their study notes to help them revise.

What I like about it
  • It's free, quick and very easy.
  • You don't need to register or part with an email address so it's a low risk site to get students using.
  • The word clouds are very attractive and will stimulate more visual learners.
  • Having key word prompts is a great way to support more fluent language production, but avoids having students just reading texts.
  • It's nice that the students or you can customise the design and choose colours and fonts that they like.
What I'm not so sure about
  • Would be nice to have a more effective embed code for blogs (There is one, but it's not very effective) I've used a work around to embed these ones.
  • Saving the word clouds as PDF is possible, but again a bit tricky unless you have a MAC (That's another good reason for getting one)
I've really enjoyed trying out this site and creating word clouds. Hope you do to. I'm sure the list of suggestions above is by no means exhaustive, so if you have any ideas for how to use this with your EFL ESL or other students, by all means post a comment and share your ideas