Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Aspiring Teacher With Good Teaching Ideas: How to use Wordle

A little while ago, I was approached with the question of whether or not I allow guest writers on my blog. I have no rule about this, either for or against. It never occurred to me before. But why not?

What would you like to write about? I asked my e-mailing acquaintance. (I just didn't want anything that smacked of an ad. I cannot deal with ads sometimes).

The answer was: Wordle--and how it can be used in teaching.

Now, some of us know Wordle (http://www.wordle.net) as the word cloud "toy" that we can use to generate pretty collages of words, just for the fun of it. You just paste in some of your text, and Wordle will generate an image of the most frequently used words. If this looks cool to you, you can make it look cooler by changing the colors, fonts, etc. 

Sample Word Cloud by Adilene, on WW2, viewable in Wordle.net Gallery

I never saw much point in Wordle...even though it's mildly amusing and fun to look at...until now.

My guest blogger, Natalie Hunter (aspiring teacher and a blogger), has written about using Wordle in the classroom as a way to help students self-edit--among other uses. I think this is great. Natalie is pretty sure that others have also realized that Wordle can be used for self assessment, but you know what? For those who don't know it, you need to read this. It can help students with their writing; it can also help teachers by providing some interesting and relevant new lessons about writing and reading.

One of the big problems the inexperienced writer often has is recycling (repeating!) the same words in an essay. Teachers hate this. No, they really hate it. 

If I had a dime for every time I've written, "Word/phrase repetition; avoid this! Read aloud to catch this problem. Self-edit!" in the margin of an essay, I'd be able to pay for that new digital SLR camera I really want but won't allow myself to have.

Anyway: here is Natalie Hunter singing the praises of Wordle. Give this tool a try and help your students--or help yourself--learn how to self-edit and improve your writing.

Using Wordle as a Self-Assessment Tool

Wordle is a tool that can help improve students’ written communication skills. Educators and students have begun to use this application in a variety of ways that cannot only add creativity to learning, but can also provide a way to assess writing and comprehension skills.

Wordle is a multipurpose tool that is especially effective in educational assessments. Here is a list of ways that Wordle can help any student, whether they're in online schools or in traditional education, evaluate and improve their skills:

1. Determines Focus: By uploading an essay into Wordle, students and teachers can evaluate the focus of the writing by observing the frequently used words. If the paper is to be about life science, the largest key terms should be strongly related to the topic.

2. Improves Writing Style: In writing, there are words that are often overused, too vague, or misused. By running a work through Wordle, students and teachers can spot these words and take action in addressing the issue.

3. Aids in Editing: It is often difficult to go back over a written work and assess it honestly. By putting it into a new and unfamiliar format such as a Wordle word cloud, it is easier to look over and figure out any general issues that you should address in the work itself.

4. Evaluate Summarizing Skills: Use Wordle to enter the first chapter of an upcoming reading and have students brainstorm about the idea behind the book, using the key words, can help to develop critical thinking skills.

Wordle is not the only web utility that works in this way. There are other programs that serve a similar function.

Word Clouds for Kids, for example, is an easy to use word cloud program designed specifically for kids that allows users to change the fonts and colors to create a cloud that is just as visually pleasing as Wordle.

Word Sift uses the same concept as Wordle, but also gives options for sorting words alphabetically or by common usage.

The way we write tells a lot about who we are. It conveys how we think, our level of intelligence, and our professionalism as well as our capabilities and understanding regarding a given subject. Superior writing skills are helpful in almost any field, and Wordle can be quite effective in improving these skills for students of all ages.   –Natalie Hunter

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