Word Clouds

A popular web 2.0 tool that a lot of you took a look at the other day was word clouds      (tools like Wordle and Tagxedo). A common question  I found popping up was  “ is it possible to have phrases appear in a word cloud? “  Yes,  you can have phrases or terms like Magna Charta or Endoplasmic Reticulum appear in your Wordle or Tagxcedo cloud .  The way to achieve this is to link the words with a tilde  ~  . For example, if I want Battles of the Civil War to appear in my word cloud I simply enter into the text box  Battles~of~the~Civil~War .  See the examples below:


Entering in phrases with the tilde



Finished Wordle with phrases


Some Uses of Word Clouds

Copy and paste the text of a famous speech or poem.

Take the text from two historical documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Preamble to the Constitution. How are they similar / different ?

Enter text to describe a mystery character or historical figure. Have students try to identify the person the word cloud describes.

More examples can be viewed in the Slideshare presentation below from Jenuinetech.com:

Tips for Using Wordle

Students may spend a lot of time switching fonts and colors. Be sure to have a strict time limit!

If students will print, allow them to only print once. Otherwise, you will have a student print out 5 different color schemes of the same exact thing.

It is not necessary to print out Word Clouds. Use the Print Screen key to take a screenshot ( picture ) of what is on the computer monitor. Open up Paint or another photoediting program to paste into and save the image as a JPEG file. JPEG is the same file type as a picture from a digital camera.

There may be questionable material that comes up in the gallery. It doesn’t happen often, but it can.

The word cloud goes by frequency. A student may misinterpret that the more often a word appears, the more important it is in a passage of text. This is definitely not always the case.

Strategies for the 1 computer classroom

Have the class brainstorm the words to be used for the word cloud. For example, if the topic is Chemical Reactions, have the students generate the word list to be used. Create the list as a class and display the Word Cloud with a digital projector, or link it to a class webpage or Edline page.

Assign one student to create a Word Cloud on a topic recently covered. Give the student just 5 minutes to create the cloud at the start of class while the other students are reading, journal writing, etc. Show the cloud to the class and have them identify what the main topic is.

In closing …

Word cloud tools are easy to use and fun. I enjoyed watching our teachers during  in-service get excited to create something and share it with others. If this tool is able to get teachers excited on an in-service day, imagine how students in the classroom will react !  At first glance, it may seem like a thoughtless exercise ( I know I did at first). But as you create one, you realize the thinking skills you tap into as you try to develop a list of words that describe or exemplify a single concept, person, or event. A lot of analysis and summarizing goes into creating and interpreting these diagrams.


Wordle – basic word cloud tool

Tagxedo – more options than Wordle, can set the cloud to have an overall shape

The History Place – text of famous speeches – can be copied and pasted into a word cloud tool


About John Sengia

Instructional Technology Specialist for a school district in York County, PA. Former science teacher. Looking to help teachers use technology naturally with their teaching instead of trying to "add it in" .
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2 Responses to Word Clouds

  1. Rosemary Cugliari says:

    Thanks John for creating this site! I hope to visit often!

  2. waltersdesign says:

    Great hint with the tilde! That’s been driving me nuts!

    A fast program for teachers to paste screenshots into would be PowerPoint. After using the “Picture Tools” to quickly crop & adjust your screenshot, you can “right click” and select “save as picture”. You don’t lose resolution, the tools are familiar, and it is licensed for all of our workstations.

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