Teaching Notes: Using Wordclouds for Learning

Wordclouds give a visual representation of words by their frequency, giving a simple quantitative aspect to those words. We have previously touched on how they can help students create meaning (‘Do word clouds help students create meaning?’) by integrating their knowledge from learning activities into a deductive, top-down approach to constructing schema.

We often use them as a ‘quick and dirty’ means of getting an idea of our students’ learning around a concept (e.g. using live polling and creating a wordcloud from the responses).

Other ideas include:

  • Providing a visual aid for an overview of a lecture topic or assessment
  • A visual representation of brainstorming activities from students
  • Text analysis for key themes from a speech or other communication piece
  • A compare and contrast task for particular approaches to e.g. clinical treatment, ethical practice or creative writing styles.

Students will sometimes use wordclouds to identify key themes or concepts from their lecture notes to aid in their learning.

They can also be used to illustrate changes in thinking by comparing wordclouds generated at different points in time (e.g. generated from different pieces of written piece of work). This allows students an opportunity for metacognitive reflection (see previous blog post ‘How do we cultivate reflective learning?’) and considering how their learning about that concept has changed.

There are a multitude of wordcloud generators and there is even a Lynda.com (not officially supported by the University) elearning tutorial on ‘Using wordclouds to inspire critical thinking’! So its time to stop using wordclouds as merely a pretty picture and start thinking pedagogy instead.


Ying Xie & Shu-Yuan Lin (2019) Using word clouds to support students’ knowledge integration from online inquiry: an investigation of the process and outcome, Interactive Learning Environments, 27:4, 478-496, DOI: 10.1080/10494820.2018.1484774

Vanderbilt University Centre for Teaching nd. Beyond the Essay, II viewed 23 January 2010 https://wp0.vanderbilt.edu/cft/guides-sub-pages/beyond-the-essay/beyond-the-essay-formative/

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