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How to create and use word clouds

Word clouds are a great way to make vocabulary learning a bit more visual. I’ve used them in the past to get students to focus on (and use) new vocabulary in a more interesting way than just presenting and pre-teaching a list of words.

Last Friday I attended a Macmillan ELT webinar where Nik Peachey showed a lot more ways to use word clouds. Here are a couple of the main points – as well as other activities you might like to try.

There are a number of places that allow you to create word clouds, but I’m concentrating on Wordle in this post.

All you need to do is paste in some text, or the webpage URL.

This is one I did from a life and style page on the Guardian.
Here’s another one about the Arctic 30 protests.

A couple of hints

You’ll need an updated version of Java to make it work properly. If you don’t have this, Wordle will prompt you to download the correct version.

When you want to create a word cloud, click “create” to get a new screen, then “go” under the text box if you’re pasting in text. If you’re pasting in the URL, click “submit” under the box for the URL address. Don’t click “create” again unless you want to lose all your changes and get a new screen again…

Then all you have to do is click “open in window” underneath your word cloud, and then use a snipping (capture) tool to make an image of your word cloud, which you can then paste into your webpage or word document.

Cool features

You have lots of options on layout (vertical, horizontal, half and half etc), language (taking out common words), font and colour palettes. You can limit the number of words you include, or delete words one by one once you’ve created your word cloud (and before you open it in the window).

What you can use word clouds for

Nik Peachey had lots of fantastic ideas for word clouds. Jumbled sentences (put the words into order), research activities (take a text from Wikipedia about a famous person and get students to identify the person, form questions etc), pre and post-listening dialogue activities (listen out for the keywords then recreate the dialogue), and even “guess the source” from looking at the style of words.

But the activities don’t have to be difficult. You can put something simple together quickly. This is an example of one I did for likes and dislikes, where students decide which verb or expression is positive, and which is negative.


I used the tilde sign ~ between words in a phrase (such as “can’t stand the sight of”) to keep the words together. You can find this in the special characters map. If you’re using Windows 8, you’ll need to search for “character” in your start page to find this.

You can also put the answers to definition type questions in the word cloud itself, getting students to focus – and then use – the target vocabulary. This is useful for personality type tests, for example.

Or use a word cloud as an “end-of-module” or “end-of-course” type activity where you can include new vocabulary or expressions that you want students to review. It’s a bit more interesting to look at than a list.

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