5 Registration-Free Word Cloud Generators

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A great way to ‘visual’ text is to use word clouds. Word clouds take a set of words, be it in a text or a word list, and display it in a shape where words counts dictate how large the word appears. A word that is used a great deal gets a large font where a word that is used sparingly is displayed in a small font. Word clouds are often used as a pre-reading exercise to help students draw on their previous knowledge or to focus on new vocabulary before diving into the reading. It can also be used to evaluate a student’s writing to help them realise where they can make changes to the text. If there are only a few words and there a words that are much larger than the rest, the author may need to diversify their lexical choices. Here are 5 word cloud generators that don’t need registration:

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Wordle: Probably the most popular site for creating word clouds and is one of the best for creating high-quality printable versions of the image. Paste in a text or put in a website URL and it creates a random word cloud. Change the font, style, colour and limit words. You can also check word counts as well. Print out as an image to save for later (if you have the capability of printing as a PDF, you can then print the cloud as large as you want without problems with losing quality).

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TagCrowd: Paste or upload a text or choose a website URL. Enter your criteria including word limitations and word counts, and create a square type word cloud that can be embedded or printed. The PDF download function didn’t work for me, but it may be just a temporary problem.

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Wispy.me: Grab text from Twitter or Facebook or paste in your text, choose your colour scheme and font, and create an instant word cloud. Save to a unique URL and then download the image to your computer or share with others.

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ABCya! Word Clouds: This is a nice little word cloud generator designed for kids. It can’t handle larger texts (seems to have trouble beyond about 35 words), but the images are nice and can be downloaded as a jpeg image file or printed. You do have some control of fonts, colour, and layout as well.

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WordItOut: This is the only word cloud generator listed here that needs an email address to save it. You can always do a screen shot or put in a temporary email address to get the file. You can paste text or get from a URL and create a word cloud with some control on font, colour, and layout.

Have you used word clouds in your class before? How did you use it? Share your ideas or thoughts in the comment section below, send me a Tweet at @nathanghall, or email me using the contact form on this webpage. This list is part of a larger list of webtools that don’t need student registration. Thank you!

“With your head in the clouds” – Using word clouds as a pre-reading tool

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When I was learning the Lithuanian language, I had a terrible time with reading exercises. I would get stressed out and would start to think that I would never be able to learn this incredibly difficult language. To me it was just a jumble of words on a page waiting for me to piece it together. At that time, I would still have considered myself a novice English language teacher and I was looking for ways to improve things for my students, especially in the area of reading. It was purely selfish. I felt that if I could find a way to help them, it might help me in learning Lithuanian as well. Fast-forward a number of years to the time I was doing my MA TESOL. I was reading an article on using word clouds in a Spanish language class for teaching writing for my integrated skills class, and the idea of using Wordle as a pre-reading tool started to blossom. Below are some of the methods that have come about from using word clouds as a pre-reading tool.

Rationale: 

  • Keep students together: In order to keep some students from working too far ahead by reading the story before the others are finished, giving them a word cloud before handing out the text can remove this problem.
  • Focuses on vocabulary: It helps students learn new words before they tackle the whole text. Students are then thinking about the meaning of the words before they encounter them in the whole context.
  • Draws attention to important themes: Students don’t have to read the whole text to understand the main ideas within the text. This helps them put it into context before addressing the main text.
  • Monitor comprehension: The teacher can evaluate how much the students already know before they go into the reading. The instructor can then give help to students who may need more help.
  • Draws on previous knowledge: Students can use their previous knowledge to help them piece together what they are about to encounter in the reading. This helps in encouraging and motivating students in the learning process.
  • Encourages creative / higher level thinking: Students are not waiting for the teacher to provide them with the answer, but helps them to think through problems critically and creatively.

Tools:

  • Word cloud generator: There are a number of sites that can create word clouds. Some require registration, but most are free and can be used without giving away any personal data. I tend to use Wordle since it was the first one I used and I am most familiar with it.
  • Text printing: Some websites have a print option that removes all of the ads and background images. For those that don’t I would suggest an online tool that allows you to print webpages without all of the other junk. I would suggest PrintFriendly since it seems the ‘print friendliest’. I did a video lesson about PrintFriendly here.
  • Text editing: Sometimes you don’t want to include the whole page or you would like to add questions or notes to the text. In that case, you could copy and paste to Word, but it usually drags over some nasty formatting along with it. I would suggest creating a PDF with PrintFriendly first and then converting the PDF to a Word document using PDF Online. Once you convert the document, you can then open it up with any word processor that reads Microsoft Word documents and can edit it like a normal document.
  • Sharing new words: Once students locate the meaning of new words, it is only fair that they share it with the rest of the class. This way, everyone can learn from their new found knowledge. In this case, you can use a collaborative document such as TitanPad or an online ‘wall’ such as Padlet. In this case, I will have students use Padlet to post notes and pictures of what they found.

Steps:

  1. Locate a text that you would like to use. This could be online, in a book, or from a PDF or Word document. To make this work, you will need to make sure the text is in some sort of digital format meaning you will have to type it up if it is in a paper format.
  2. Highlight and copy the text. If the text is on a webpage, it is probably a good idea to use PrintFriendly to create a ‘clean’ copy of the text that won’t drag in words for the advertisements or other extraneous content. To understand how to use PrintFriendly, watch my video lesson. Once you have a nice copy of the text, simply copy by selecting all the text and choosing ‘copy’.
  3. Go to Wordle.net, click on “Create your own” and paste the text into the top box, and click on “Go”. It may take a few seconds, but eventually a new word cloud will appear on the screen. You can now choose the font type, colours, and layout from the menu at the top.
  4. Print your word cloud. Click on “Print” at the bottom of the word cloud and a new dialog box will appear. Click on “OK” and your normal printer dialog box will appear. Choose your printer and paper size and click on “Print”.
  5. Hand out your word cloud. After introducing the topic or the exercise, put students in pairs or small groups and hand out the word cloud to the students. Explain to them that the large words are used many times in the story and the smaller words are used less.
  6. Have students discuss the word cloud. Ask them to brainstorm in their pairs/groups what they think the story is about. Have them try to draw connections to the words.
  7. Discuss as a class. Have students share their ideas as a group. Maybe put the ideas on the whiteboard to review later on.
  8. Each student chooses a word. Have students choose one word they they would like to know more about. It could be that they don’t know the word, or maybe they just want to know why that word is used in this context.
  9. Explain skimming and scanning. Explain to the students the two types of reading for gist. Skimming is used to find what the text is about and scanning is used to locate a particular idea. For this exercise, scanning is used to locate a particular word.
  10. Students scan the text for their word. Give students a set period of time to locate their word in the text and to find out what it means in the context. They can underline, highlight, or summarize the text surrounding their word.
  11. Students share their word. Put students into small groups to share their words and reasons for them being in the text. Students then put their words on a Padlet along with links to images if necessary. To know how to use Padlet, check out my instructions posted here.
  12. Discuss their words as a class. Pull up the Padlet on the interactive whiteboard (IWB) or use a projector to display the wall for the whole class. Discuss the new words as a class and talk about their importance to the text.
  13. Students read the text. Have the students read over the text as they would normally (eg. comprehension questions, discussion questions, etc.).

Notes:

  • You could divide the text into different sections and create a different word cloud for each section. Give groups different sections and then combine them together as a speaking exercise.
  • You could choose two or three different articles on the same subject and then compare and contrast each article using a word cloud for each text.
  • You could follow this up with a writing exercise where students re-write sections that have ‘large’ words on the word cloud. Students look up synonyms or new ways of saying things to balance out the cloud.
  • Combine the word cloud with pictures based on the text along with the headline and sub-headlines. This gives students more context to work with.
  • One recommendation: Choose a text that at, or slightly below, the students’ normal reading level to help them with skimming and scanning.

What other ways could you use this in the classroom? Add your thoughts in the comment section below, tweet me at @nathanhall, or email me through the contact page on this website.