03 November 2014

Word Clouds for Authentic Personalized Vocabulary

Can you tell what this student is interested based on her word cloud?
Word clouds are a great way for students to analyze authentic texts and determine the vocabulary they need to talk about something that interests them. They can also help reinforce basic vocabulary like articles and prepositions, but if used correctly, it can arm even novices to read about, write about, and discuss their passions in the target language!

Of course each student needs to establish some key words for searching early on in the Genius Hour process, words they'll have to look up in a dictionary so they can get started. Having them start with a webmap of English words helps their brains get in the habit of sorting vocabulary semantically, for easy mental filing and access. So when they look up the words, the new vocabulary will be organized visually to help their little brains out.

After students have used their key words to find, oh, 5 good sources on their topic and saved them to Diigo (or Pearltrees or Delicious, or whichever online bookmark tool you prefer), have them choose 3 of the best, to begin with. Me, I kept it to 3 because a couple of my kids had bookmarked a few Portuguese sites and others had actively sought out infographs--images without easy copy-paste-ability that would require beaucoup typing in the TL to be able to turn the vocabulary into word clouds.

Once they've got their sources selected, here's what they can do to make the most of them with word clouds, to harvest useful vocabulary:
  1. Open the first site and copy and paste the whole dang thing (except ads or other irrelevant links and clutter).
  2. Paste the whole dang text into a word cloud generator (this article has a bunch of cool ones I hadn't tried...until I found out Tagxedo didn't work on our Chromebooks...)
  3. Take out little words they know: el, la, de, que, en, etc (great opportunity to reinforce them mentally as they delete them).
  4. Generate your word cloud. Make it fancy, if you want (gotta love the South America option on Tagxedo).
  5. Save the picture or embed code.
  6. Repeat steps 1-5 with the other 2 sources.
  7. Choose a total of 5-10 of the biggest words from all 3 word clouds to add to your webmap master list. If they fit with existing webmap bubbles, add them there; if not, make new bubbles.
  8. Add all 3 word clouds to a single blog post and post the 5-10 words you selected underneath.
Word clouds let technology focus students' attention on what they can really use without exhausting mental resources better spent on interpretation and meaning making. Seeing all of those understandable words pop out like that also helps drop ye olde affective filter, I've found too. 

Plus they're pretty.

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