Thursday, September 10, 2015

Michele Hathaway on Historical Fiction in a Word Cloud

When it comes to children who would much rather program a robot than read a book, creativity is essential, and word clouds are one solution. Although Word Clouds have been around for a while, they are still a great way to get your reluctant reader or writer going. Those who don't need as much encouragement will have fun, too. If, like me, word clouds are a recent discovery, they are basically a list of words generated from an idea, or in our case a work of historical fiction. Simply place this list in a word cloud program and--voila--a word cloud!

Although there are many word cloud programs, Christopher Pappas suggests Five Best Free Word Cloud Creation Tools for Teachers. Tagul is an especially fun word cloud generator because of the shape selection. Some programs will let you upload a photo to create the shape. I brainstormed the word cloud above from Kirby Larson's Dash, the 2015 Scott O'Dell Award winner. Tagul does require an account, but it is free and easy to sign up.

Text Mining

Creating a word cloud from a book or history lesson is essentially mining--mining words and ideas to focus on essential elements and gems within a work, but a fancy program isn't necessary. Construction paper, felt, a blackboard, sidewalk, chalk, markers, glue, Velcro, you get the idea, is all you need, and probably will appeal more to your visual artists and kinetic learners. Just be sure to let your techies have their moment of glory on a computer, from time to time.  For library programs this is perfect. Get your young readers to create a word cloud of their favorite book titles or focus on a specific book. Put them on posters, hang them above bookshelves or on walls, or fix the words directly onto a wall.  

Speeches & Pre-reading

Speeches such as Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" or Abraham Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address," are marvelous in a word cloud and a good way to add dimension to a historical fiction. Word clouds can also be used for pre-reading. For example, students can enter the major headings from a textbook into a word cloud program as a foundation for a new unit.


Recently, I was having trouble refocusing on a work in progress after some time away. A friend suggested I make a Wordle. Just saying  Wordle is fun. The result is to your left. As well as focusing on main themes, word clouds work well for helping your creative writing students generate characters. They might even place it in a silhouette. 

Words are fun whatever the medium. I hope you'll put word clouds in your kit. And be sure to pull it out when the robot programmers in your life start wilting.

Here are a  couple more websites you might want to check out:

Michele Hathaway is a writer and freelance editor. She has an M. A. in Social Anthropology and has worked in libraries in California, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania. She writes stories set in culturally diverse, historical and contemporary periods.

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