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Free Tools Challenge #10: Word clouds with Wordle

This is the 10th post in the “30 days to using the best of the web’s free tools for educators” series. Be sure to subscribe to the Teacher Challenge blog by RSS, like us on facebook, and follow us on twitter to keep up with future challenge posts as they are published.

This guest post is written by Marsha Ratzel.

Most people that write for the web tell us that a picture helps to draw reader interest to the post. What if the picture is composed from words? Does it have the same impact?


Wordle, or a word cloud, helps to interpret the meaning of the words by assigning font size according to how frequently the word appears in the targeted text. This is one of the most popular online tool with almost 14,000 visitors each day stopping by to do anything from fans typing in their favorite music videos, teachers analyzing literary texts, kids making signs, spouses writing love letter and journalists wordling political speeches.

Wordles have been used in a multitude of ways from PowerPoint slides, to pictures for T-shirts, magazine covers, scrapbooking layouts, birthday cards, Valentine’s wishes, Back to School night posters, Get to Know You activities on the first day of school to YouTube videos.

You name it, it’s probably been done in some form.


Simple to do…. browse onto the Wordle page, paste in the text that you want to use for the word cloud and submit for processing. Within a few seconds, you’ll be gifted with a cloud from a randomly chosen style, color scheme and layout.

Then just keep experimenting with different settings until you’re please with how the image looks…customizing it to meet your needs perfectly. It’s truly one of the easiest to use online tools.


To get you in the brainstorming mode, let’s look at ideas where other teachers have found used Wordle to be a useful instructional tool. Here are a number of examples that may be helpful to get you thinking about how you could use this tool.

  • Spelling and learning new vocabulary words
  • Print a Wordles as bookmarks or librarians used Wordles to create descriptions of Dewey Decimal sections
  • Use Wordle as another way to graph
  • Wordles point out most often used words in curriculum standards and can help analyze what skills or concepts are emphasized
  • Students can analyze their own writing by pasting in their drafts to see if they’ve used certain words or phrases too often…it can help spot cliches
  • Can help summarize big ideas of a chapter or passage of text. Can allow you to examine the bookmarks you’ve saved on a particular topic to see if there are themes or trends in the saved files.
  • Anything where time is of the essence and a picture can communicate the ideas more quickly than reading a large bit of text.
  • Analyze what you’ve written about the most in your writing portfolio or in your blog Have each student create their version of classroom rules, paste them all into Wordle and find the most common ideas that students agreed upon.
  • Create classroom polls where each child gets to enter one word on “what’s your favorite color?”
  • A high school chemistry teacher encourages students to see what the most important vocabulary words are in sections of each chapter.
  • A journalism teacher compares political speeches of the Queen from one year to another or the President’s State of the Union message.

Help & Tips on using Wordle

Easy to watch tutorial videos can be found on YouTube in several places. This one is only three minutes long and easy to watch.

In addition to how the video shows to get the Wordle into your blog or document, you can also take a screenshot of the final version.

In the PC world, you’ll have to paste that into a PowerPoint and save it as a .jpg in order to import it elsewhere. In the Mac world, the screenshots are saved as .png files which import as is into most blogs and documents…. or you can open it in Preview and save it under a new name as a .jpg file type.

Challenge Task

Think about how you might use a Wordle to

  1. use with your students as a way to communicate an idea to them;
  2. have your students try out in a classroom activity; or
  3. analyze the last three month’s of blog posts to see what topics appear the most and what are the most frequently used words

Be sure to add a comment to share your ideas and to link us back to where you’ve posted your work.

Want to extend this kind of instructional tool a bit???

Additional resources to check out….

Go read Larry Ferlazzo’s post, The Best Resources for Learning about “Word Clouds” and look at one of the two tools he mentions that extends the ideas of Wordle—Tagxedo and Answer Garden. See if either of these makes sense for your classroom application. If you have time, try it out or imagine what you’d do with the tool and then write a post explaining your plan.

About the Author

My name is Marsha Ratzel and I teach middle school in Overland Park, Kansas. As a science teacher, I’m always looking for ways to communicate ideas in different ways and from a visual learner perspective, which is what drew me to something like Wordle.

It’s a time efficient, student/teacher friendly tool to get people talking about the ideas not so much about the technology. I’ve been writing a professional reflection blog since 2003 and have just gotten started in the classroom blogging world during the 2010-2011 school year.

21 comments for “Free Tools Challenge #10: Word clouds with Wordle

  1. Ryan Ross
    October 1, 2013 at 8:29 pm

    I learned something from this.

  2. Chris
    March 17, 2012 at 6:03 am

    Great instructions! I have seen some crazy wordles used at my school for Art and English projects. They are being used more and more. There’s a site that collects wordles at

  3. May 12, 2011 at 10:44 am

    This is a great post, Marsha and the comments are very helpful too. One thing I did for the first time today is search their gallery. It gave me a lot of teaching ideas and I linked to some of the Wordles in my post:
    Sue, thanks for helping me understand their terms and conditions. I am always confused by those.

  4. Lynne Cook
    May 11, 2011 at 10:16 am

    Hi Tracy,
    One thing I would love to learn, is how to use VOKI. I have seen it and heard it, but I am afraid of it.
    Please help,
    Lynne Cook

    • May 12, 2011 at 11:39 am

      Hi Lynne,
      So glad you mustered the courage to try posting a comment. I can show you Vokis some time. I noticed you posted your comment on the Wordle post. Did you have any questions about Wordle?
      Kind regards,
      Tracy Watanabe

  5. May 4, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    Wordle is a wonderful tool to use in the classroom. It’s easy to use and the kids love it. They really like to Wordle their own poems and stories.

  6. Dorene Bates
    April 7, 2011 at 12:37 am

    Great post. I love using Wordle. I know Tagxedo can do a little more, but Wordle is easier. Wonderful information on other uses of word clouds. Thanks.

  7. April 5, 2011 at 3:59 am

    I use Wordle to teach students how to use the “print Screen” function. After they create their word cloud they use print screen to past into word or PowerPoint. I also cross curricular this tool with guidance and language arts. Some other teachers have picked up on this and used it for vocabulary and story building ideas. Students become very engaged when using this tool as well.

    • April 5, 2011 at 10:34 am

      Hi Mr Riley, great idea for teaching students how to use the “print screen” function while using it for cross curricular activities.

    • April 5, 2011 at 3:04 pm

      Mr Riley,
      It is important though, to give attribution still to the Wordle website even though you might have used print screen to make an image. Somewhere in the Wordle terms and conditions it mentions you must have a link back to the website. All a part of teaching students and teachers to be effective users of the web and to give credit where credit is due.

  8. April 3, 2011 at 2:41 pm

    Here is a post by Morgan. He figured out that you can have more than the default 150 words show in a Wordle. After you put the words in and Create, then go to Layout and Maximum Words. Morgan chose 500 or something like that; I’m not sure what the max is. Here is his post. It looks neat with all the little words, even though some are illegible.


  9. Mrs. Swift
    April 3, 2011 at 11:26 am

    Coincidentally I just recently used Wordle for the first time this year. As a follow up to some work on persuasive writing, my students practised their skills while asking me for a class guinea pig. Of course I couldn’t say no….if only I had been a little clearer on the meaning of the word “virtual”. I digress….We had a record number of comments to a post asking for suggestions for names for our new pet. To honour all of the contributions, we made a Wordle. I used Notebook 10 software to do a screen capture and then export the slide as a jpg. Check out the Post.

  10. April 3, 2011 at 7:48 am

    People have also left me comments on the fact that tagxedo is better than wordle but I have not used it yet. I still love wordle and use it frequently. Thank you for giving us so many ways to use wordle effectively in the classroom. The resources you have featured will provide further research into visual analysis.
    It may also be worth mentioning that to hold two words together, the tilda (~) needs to be used between those two words. For words that need to featured and be enlarged, repeat the word within the wordle.

    • April 3, 2011 at 2:23 pm

      Thanks for sharing this valuable tool, Marsha!

      I’m glad you shared the tilde feature. I loved it when I figured that out. Here is a Wordle with space between the words using the tilde.
      Another good feature to note is Wordle supports the use of language symbol shortcuts

      • Vera Szopen
        April 19, 2011 at 4:14 pm

        I could see this being used as a way to write poetry too

  11. April 2, 2011 at 1:49 pm

    Wordle is good but I think that Tagxedo is better in every way!

    • Vera Szopen
      April 19, 2011 at 4:21 pm

      Tagxedo looks great – I can see it could have lots of applications

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