The Moss-Free Stone

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Wordle Done Right

December 12, 2012 by Randy Rodgers · 4 Comments · 21st Century Skills, Educational technology, Teaching and Learning, Web Tools

Wordle has been a staple for countless teachers for several years now. Students create word clouds with words they’ve listed to describe themselves, traits of literary characters, examples of metallic elements, planets, etc. While there is nothing inherently wrong with any of these projects, they completely negate Wordle’s most powerful ability–the ability to analyze and find patterns in text.  When Wordle looks at a body of text, such as a student’s essay, it identifies the most commonly used words by making them bigger and more prominent in the word cloud. This feature allow students to examine text for key words/ideas, possible writer bias, patterns of speech, and more. Just last week, Edudemic had a nice article addressing how to use this feature. I wanted to expand on their discussion a bit and, hopefully, show how it can be used to encourage even deeper analysis and critical thinking.

The activity I’ll describe uses the inaugural addresses of several U.S presidents at critical moments in the nation’s history: George Washington; Abraham Lincoln; Franklin Delano Roosevelt; John F. Kennedy; and Barack Obama. It could be used as a summative assessment at the end of a year’s worth of U.S. history. Each address was entered into Wordle, and the resulting word clouds are displayed below, in random order (Click each to enlarge.).

Students will carefully examine each Wordle and try and identify which president’s speech is represented by each. The student should list several reasons why they assigned a particular president to a particular word cloud. They could self-assess by partnering and defending their selections prior to the final submission. This requires a pretty significant knowledge of the historical context and political philosophies of each president, and it involves actual critical thinking not present in a simple “President Lincoln Wordle”. This concept could be applied to a variety of topics and texts, as well, such as Shakespearean plays, poems by different poets, songs, national constitutions, etc.

By the way, I’ll send a surprise prize to the first person who correctly matches the word clouds to their presidents in the comments!

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