Word Cloud Magic for the Three Modes of Communication

Do you use word clouds in your classes? I have used them for years, but I feel like I really stepped up my game this year. I've been using them to have students practice extemporaneous speaking, review and show comprehension of a text, to provide scaffolding for presentational tasks, and to distill a complex text. (The word cloud to the left is from the first chapter of Crónica de una muerte anunciada, which my Spanish 300 students read in the spring term.) Here are a few easy ways to integrate word clouds using the three modes of communication.

Word Clouds in the Interpretive Mode

The classic way to use a word cloud is to distill a text. Choose some key words, phrases, ideas, characters, etc. from your text, and make a word cloud (my favorite is WordArt). Once you have a cloud, you can do anything with it:
  • Before the students read or listen to the original text, have them read the word cloud to make predictions about what the text is about. 
  • During listening activities, have students mark off the words they hear. Using a word cloud, instead of a simple list, can allow for students to indicate how many times they hear a word or phrase, like in a song; or it can increase the challenge for students who need it by presenting the words out of order. 
  • After reading or listening to the text, they can use the word cloud to explain the terms or tell why they are important.
  • A natural extension: Have the students make word clouds based on what they think are the most important ideas of the text (you'd want to do either a different chapter or movie scene, or a complete text, so they don't copy you).

Word Clouds in the Interpersonal Mode

Word clouds are a great way to review a text in conversation. I often had my students take turns reviewing a chapter of Crónica or a scene from a movie (Los colores de la montaña in Spanish 100). They had to mark off the words that their partner used, and make sure to use all the words in the cloud in order to achieve a decent review of the text. 

Word Clouds in the Presentational Mode

I loved using word clouds as word banks or scaffolding for writing and speaking. I would ask students to write a summary, or, in the lab, record an oral summary, using the word cloud that I had already created for whatever novel chapter or movie scene we had been discussing. This meant that I could use the same resource for multiple lessons and assessments. Teacher win! You could add a twist, or again, increase the challenge, by setting a time limit. Especially in oral tasks, this can help students develop fluency in spontaneous situations. Of course, you could follow Cynthia Hitz's lead and have students create personal word clouds, as I have done for the past four years. It's a great community builder. 

How do you use word clouds?