by Glen Downey, Comics in Education, www.comicsineducation.com
Tag Clouds Are Powerful Learning Tools that Draw upon the Power of the Visual!
One thing that comics taught me was the power of a visual medium to tell me something that I needed to know about a story, its plot, its characters, and how to make meaning of a narrative. It also got me thinking that other visual devices must be similarly effective, even when applied to other kinds of texts. I had also always been fascinated by Discourse Analysis, a branch of literary and textual studies that examines how discourse unfolds in everything from a series of comic books to a website devoted to spoiler updates about that series of comic books!
At www.wordle.net, however, you can find an immensely powerful visual tool. Now if you've worked in education you've seen these over and over again. No doubt your state or provincial governing bodies for education have distributed materials containing tag clouds like the one above that contain key terms. In these clouds, words that appear more frequently are larger in size. As it turns out, though, there is significant application in the English classroom for these.
Here's something you can try (actually, you should have your students do this as a regular habit):
1. Prior to submitting an essay or writing assignment, have students cut and paste the assignment into a Wordle. The students go to www.wordle.net (they can also use the website Tagxedo, but Wordle is quick and effective). The student cuts and pastes their writing by clicking on the Create tab.
2. Once you hit "Go," Wordle will take the student's text and create a word or tag cloud out of it. By looking closely at the Wordle, a student can glean a lot of information!
So What Is This Important Information?
Before we get to that, make sure that the student goes to the Language tab and clicks on "Remove Common English Words" so that it is unchecked. This will allow the student to see all of the words in the Wordle. Now get the student to find the important information about his or her writing below:
Try this great visual activity with your students and let me know how it goes. Watch, too, to see if some of the "language" of talking about Wordles begins to rub off on how they talk to one another about their writing during peer editing and revision sessions (e.g. "I notice in your Wordle that you use the words `due' and `fact' a lot; you might be saying `due to the fact that' too much and should replace it with `because'"). In my experience of using this activity, I find that their language will start to change a bit!
Dr. Glen Downey is an award-winning children's author, educator, and academic from Oakville, Ontario. He works as a children's writer for Rubicon Publishing, a reviewer for PW Comics World, an editor for the Sequart Organization, and serves as the Chair of English and Drama at The York School in Toronto.
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