Wordle is a simple visual representation tool for producing 'word clouds'. A 'word cloud' or 'tag cloud' shows the most frequent words in a given text by giving them a larger font size.
Text can be copied and pasted easily into the window pane from another source, including a word document or web page or directly from a URL which has a RSS feed. For example, below is what was created when I took the text from a blog about technology for the classroom:
Common words, such as 'the', 'and' etc, and numbers are excluded by default, but can be included, while individual words can be excluded. There are also options for words in different languages. There are a number of ways to visualise the cloud, using different colour combinations, fonts, choice between upper or lower case and orientation. Or a user can simply click 'randomize' to bring up different interpretations of the same text.
The tool has been used by worldwide media to report on political speeches - examples here and here, while the tool's creator, Jonathon Feinberg, demonstrated it using the US Constitution. Feinbeg has his own blog about how it gets used and to answer frequent Q&As. There is also a google group of Wordle users.
Wordle has a relevance to corpus linguistics, according to a presentation given by Tilly Harrison at an iatefl conference, (Cardiff, 2009). It allows you to analyse authentic texts in terms of frequency of words. It focuses on chunks of text and collocation, such as lexis that might be associated with a certain topic. It is more visually arresting than wading through concordance lines, which otherwise might show patterns of word usage. The Idiom Principle (Sinclair, 1991) suggests that a lot of language comes from semi-preconstructed phrases that constitute single choices:
|taken from Cowie, A.P. 1999, English Dictionaries for Foreign Learners: A History (Oxford: OUP)|
+ Halliday (1991) stated: "Frequency in the corpus is observable evidence of probability in the system"
Here are a few of my own ideas for using Wordle:
- Prediction tasks - get students to predict what kinds of words will appear in a newspaper or magazine article, based on the pictures, headline or tagline. Takes votes on what they think what be the most common ones used.
- Show some pre-made Wordles to guess a film, book or play. Then get them to make up sentences, building up from 5-word sentences to 6-word sentences and so on.
- Ask students to find a text on a certain topic and to copy and paste it in and get other students to work out the source from the keywords.
- Students could write up a review or reflection of a task-based exercise into Word or similar and these collated into a wordle to see most common opinions.
- Use it for unscrambling sentences, putting them in correct grammatical order.
- Use it as a pre-reading task, to predict sentence they are going to see in a text on which the wordle is based.
- Use a 'wordled' paragraph as a basis for a speed writing activity.
- Use a wordle to generate interest for writing an original story. Get them to feed some ideas into word, make sure common words (the, an, and, etc) are removed and see what proves most popular.
- Use it to learn new vocabulary or collocations. Make a wordle for target vocabulary, get them to collocate unfamiliar ones with ones they know.
- Use it as a basis for a Dictogloss,to practice grammatical structures/summarise a target-language text.
There are no real limitations once the images have been created. Although there is no direct way of downloading your image - Java applets are not permitted to write - once it has been created, all that is needed is a simple screen-capture tool. I use the Windows 7 snipping tool for most things. Or you could use #12 - Jing, which I reviewed already.
According to Jonathon Feinberg, there is no limit to using your images in other ways, even as the basis for commercial products, although if your image is saved to the public gallery it could, in theory, be used by others. He acknowledges you can't moderate or filter Wordle to protect offensive words appearing. It all depends on the source text, so comon-sense discretion is advised if you are a teacher of a particularly sensitive nature or teaching in a lexis-sensitive context.
Feinberg acknowledges that "most of the problems people encounter with Wordle are due to its dependence on the Java Runtime Environment, or just "Java" for short. Java is both a programming language and an enormous piece of software that lets you run programs written in that language" (Sep 2011). See more on this on his blog.
Key to above Wordles:
1. Most commonly used words in a 'Lexis and Grammar' essay on the phrase 'public interest'.
2. Text came from Nik Peachey's Scoop.It! blog on 20 Feb 2012.
3. A visual representation of my blog entry for #7 MailVu.
4. A visual representation of my blog entry for#10 Quest Garden.
5. A #1 'Today's Meet' class discussion on the merits or otherwise of the virtual reality website, Second Life, with timings and student names removed first.
Here is a Slideshare Presentation from EFL teacher and MA student, Dave Dodgson:
Using wordle in the language classroom
For a webinar on this click here. Thanks to David Dodgson for sending me this.