Teaching Tip: Better Writing with the Help of Word Clouds

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The PLC (Professional Learning Community) will be providing the teaching tip of the week throughout the academic year in support of their goal of interdisciplinary collegiality.

Educational technology spans a wide range of tools. Quite often, some of these tools provide an unexpected use. Several semesters ago, I was introduced to word cloud generators Wordle and Tagxedo. Both sites allow the user to create word clouds from text that the user provides. The word clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently. Users can customize the clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes. The completed images created can be printed or shared with others.

After reviewing some examples and some play time of my own, I realized that this tool could be utilized for more than whimsical play with words. Using Tagxedo, I created a word cloud from a UT Arlington advising website that I update; the word cloud created does a great job of providing a unique, visual representation of exploring major areas of study at UT Arlington. Subsequently, I realized that using word clouds could help students write better essays, especially those struggling with writing skills.

Using the world cloud tool is simple. Students add text (their rough drafts) to the word cloud generator of their choice. Immediately, students see if their main topic is being addressed appropriately. When students see words like the, but, and, or my personal favorite, something boldly emphasized, then they know that they may be skirting around the topic and not writing a clear, concise essay. In this sense, “seeing is believing,” and with more practice and additional awareness, their writing skills improve.

~Soyla Santos, ssantos@uta.edu, Academic Advisor III, University Advising Center, University College

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