May I Have a Wordle?

Written By Dave on Thursday, September 19, 2013 | 5:41:00 PM

FringeEdTech isn't about the latest and greatest technology. It's about warping existing technology to add a seamless dimension of vitality to the classroom. So I don't feel too bad about exploiting a fad from yesteryear.

Wordle ( is a sweet, simple website where users can generate word clouds. And while naysayers might say that word clouds were cool in 2000 and they are a little passé by today's standards, I say they are wrong. 

I contend that word clouds are effective because they aren't popular. We aren't saturated by them anymore, so when we see one, perhaps it represents something relevant and worth considering.

I'm championing them as a learning tool. If a picture is worth one thousand words, than a picture of a word cloud must be exponentially more valuable. And because a word cloud emphasizes the frequency of words, they can be an honest representation of the zeitgeist of an organization.

Consider the word cloud below (all word clouds were created with Wordle, unless otherwise noted). I merely copied and pasted the full text of the Constitution of the United States into the word cloud generator at, and look at the results:

Constitution of the United States of America - Word Cloud
You could look at this for an overview of the values of our constitution,
or you could read the whole thing. Your call.

History teachers could hang up a poster like this right next to the Constitution. It's a bit easier to digest (and provides an inherent value dipstick). 

I also see great value in implementing a word cloud for clubs, departments, and organizations. Again, it is a great way to instantly get a feel of how the organization sees itself (as told by the mission statement). Here is a snapshot of the Monroe Community College mission statement. I work here, and as I really believe that our core ideology is embodied in this graphical representation (note that in addition to copying and pasting the mission statement into the generator, I skewed the frequency of "MCC" by adding it several more times manually - I did this because I wanted it to render larger than any other word).

Monroe Community College - Mission Statement
Look at those words! Don't they just scream
"welcoming learning environment"? Our mission

statement rules.

Thematically, word clouds can elucidate difficult readings. This collection of word clouds are different arrangements of the text from Henry V (as a math major, I struggled with Shakespeare in college - this might have helped me decrypt some of the themes and major players).

Advanced users can explicitly weigh the words, thus creating a pictorial representation of who they are, what they believe, or their hobbies. Teachers could survey the students on a topic (for example, "Who was the most developed character in To Kill a Mockingbird?"), and generate a word cloud based on the responses. If the teacher has multiple sections reading the same book, the word clouds could be juxtaposed next to each other, displaying the different (or same) values from class to class.

Word clouds can be personal (as in creating a word cloud to represent oneself), and can also be collaborative (aggregating responses from a group of people). I also recently saw a word cloud on my LinkedIn feed. So I guess I'm not the only one who still believes in them (in this screenshot, I'm not sure if was used in the creation of the word cloud):

Word cloud from LinkedIn
Someone in LinkedIn likes word clouds...

To demonstrate the potency of a word cloud, I leave you with this one. You figure out what it means.

Friday by Rebecca Black
What do you see in this cloud?

About Dave


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