Creative Use of Word Clouds

ITBE cloudOver the weekend I had the pleasure of attending the ITBE’s 41st Annual Convention. I arrived on Friday with just enough time to attend one session. I quickly browsed the offerings (which were very impressive on both days!), and chose “Summarizing and Comprehension Activities for Adult ESL Reading Classes.”

What a hot topic! Jeanette Diller of Heartland Community College had standing-room only. I took one of the last seats open.

Jeanette works in the Adult Education department and has ESL students of different levels. She has amassed many creative activities that promote text comprehension, whether it be a novel or textbook reading.  Going beyond simple Q&A, her tasks excite learners and prompt meaningful interaction with the text. One of my favorites was her “Character Clouds.” Jeanette has learners use free software on either Tagxedo or ABCya! to transform word lists into meaningful clouds.

Think about the beauty of this activity. First, students are not pressured to formulate a paragraph, or even a sentence. They brainstorm and reflect, choosing single words that describe a character. The teacher could limit the lists to adjectives or open it up to any word form. Jeanette demonstrated how Tagxedo allows users to choose the shape of the cloud, which gives extra meaning to the words. What shape is representative of the character or story? Additional reflection is necessary.

Jeanette has her adult learners practice their computer skills by saving and emailing their finished images to her. In class, they share their Character Clouds. I see some additional steps evolving, don’t you? The clouds can be shared in pairs or small groups, and students can discuss their choices. This could all be part of a pre-writing phase, with the ultimate goal of composing a one-paragraph character description.

Walter Mitty
“Walter Mitty” cloud

Here’s my character cloud for Walter Mitty, Thurber’s famous dreamer. Do you get it? How engaging it is to explain one’s word choices and preference for the shape of the cloud.


What else can you do with word clouds? Oh! This is going to be a fun resource to employ…

What about vocabulary? You can recommend that students use word clouds to help review and retain words and expressions after a lesson. In 2014, I posted a video lesson on chicken-related idioms. I could show my chicken-inspired word cloud to prompt students to recall those expressions.

Chicken idioms
Chicken-related Idioms



It would also be constructive to assign single words from a vocabulary list to different students. Each student could create a word cloud for his or her assigned word. The images could be shared online and in class for reference and study. Here’s an example for the high frequency word “precious.”

Vocabulary Word Cloud
Vocabulary Word Cloud

What ideas do you have? Have you already used these resources in your lessons? How? Please feel free to share.


Thank you again to Jeanette Diller, AELP Instructor/Reading Center Facilitator at Heartland Community College, for a very informative session at the ITBE convention. Thank you also for allowing me to share your activity here.





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