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35 Ways of Using Word Clouds in Language Teaching

I posted this originally on my own blog here:


There are many possibilities for using word clouds in language courses. I've listed around 35 of them here with a few hints on what to do.

- preview a presentation or a text

- preview the current day’s lesson plan 

- predict the content of a text e.g. topics, style, purpose, intended audience

- predict the content of a novel e.g. plot lines, characters, genre or themes as group work

- complete reading comprehension questions just from a word cloud, then comparing answers after reading the actual text

- summarise a presentation 

- turn a text into a picture (essay, report, paragraph, article, etc.)

- identify the key words in a text based on their size in the word cloud

- expanding vocabulary (definitions, synonyms, antonyms, or brainstorm words associated with a new one, match parts of collocations)

- student-created flashcards of essential words (review, circle unknown, learn)

- discussion starter (student chooses one word from cloud to speak about)

- add to printed or online course materials

- use as a background for slides or online materials

- compare student responses (make one cloud, or separate ones to compare)

- explore a topic (students add own ideas to a question stimulus & build a cloud)

- take a quick class poll or track a poll over time (multiple clouds side-by-side)

- introduce new course, syllabus or module (provides an overview of content)

- introduce course objectives

- student ice-breaker e.g. all input hobbies, interests, future aspirations, family, pets, favourite films or books, country of origin, etc. 

- highlight the main areas to focus on from rubrics to gain the best grades

- highlight examples of misspelled or overused words in student writing by inputting their own work

- illustrate contrasting ideas (show two clouds side-by-side), such as opposing arguments in essays or articles

- research texts from multiple sources then combine them into a cloud

- ‘find the words’ game (e.g. mix academic & non-academic in a cloud & identify)

- ‘guess the topic’ game, or combine two topics in one cloud and students separate them out

- ‘grammar game’ e.g. students classify words from a cloud into different parts of speech or different tenses 

- ‘sentence structure’ game e.g. input a complex sentence or short series of sentences into a word cloud, and have students reconstruct them in the correct word order

- ‘memory game’ e.g. show a word cloud, take it off the screen, students write as many words as they can recall

- identify parts of speech (students highlight or underline in different colours)

- visual analysis of qualitative data (e.g. convert a table to a picture)

- curriculum mapping across multiple subjects

- checking the balance between course content and course objectives

Here is a multiple-lesson design thanks to http://tborash.posterous.com/designing-lessons-using-wordle:

While not a flawless design, these six steps seemed paramount in increasing students' desire to learn:

  • Students pre-assessing their own knowledge and understanding - "What does _insert topic here_ mean to me?"
  • Students using Wordle to analyze the pre-assessment responses
  • Students "doing stuff" to experience _insert topic here_ in real life - "What happens when I do this?" (this is the learning phase)
  • Students responding to what they now know and understand - "What does _insert topic here_ mean to me today?"
  • Students comparing the Wordle of their current thinking to that of their pre-assessment responses
  • Students asking the question, "Given what I first thought, and what I now think, what do I think of next?"

Without the use of Wordle, we lose out on a central piece of this lesson design puzzle.

An excellent article by Simon Thomas on using word clouds in language activities can be found at: http://efl-resource.com/language-activities-with-wordle-and-word-cl.... This includes links to several other resources as well.


- assists with motivation

- assists with thinking skills

- enlivens course content in all macro-skills

- appeals to visual learners

Places to Try:

http://abcya.com/word_clouds.htm (for young learners)

http://www.literature-map.com/ (more for readers of English lit.)

http://www.imagechef.com/ic/word_mosaic/ (has iOS & Android apps.)

http://quintura.com/ (has iOS app.)



http://tagul.com/ (each tag is linkable with a URL for navigation)


http://www.visualthesaurus.com/vocabgrabber/ (also has visual thesaurus!)


http://www.wordle.net/ (very easy to use, MOST favoured by teachers)

http://wordsift.com/ (from Stanford University ELL)

The word cloud illustrated below was prepared by myself using Wordle. Can you guess what the topic is?

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