Get Your Head in the Clouds!

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It all started with Lynn Hainer. She’s a local councillor in St. Marys and a good friend. She’s also a bit of a techie. During her recent campaign, she asked friends to provide adjectives to describe her. I provided a few. The result was a word cloud full of positive attributes. I wondered if I could take this idea and use it in my ESL classroom. I decided to try it.

First, I asked my class to put adjectives on a white board that they could use to describe a person, both positive and negative. They came up with many. I added a few. We used them in sentences
to help define the meanings. For example, we discussed different ways to say that somebody was thin, such as slender and skinny, and that using slender was much more polite than using skinny.

Second, I gave them recipe cards. The students put their names on the top. The cards were passed to the right, and the next person
wrote five adjectives to describe the person on the card. I was strict that nobody could peek to see what the others were writing. The card was passed to the right and five more adjectives were written. Each person could repeat adjectives, but had to write at least one original one.

I compiled the words this way because I wanted the submissions to be anonymous and positive.  I didn’t want a shred of negativity in this exercise. I weeded out any words where the intent might be misunderstood.

Next, I went to a word cloud site. There are several of them. The one I used was at ABCYA.com – http://www.abcya.com/word_clouds.htm.

To understand the result, you need to know a bit about how the word cloud works. The more a word appears, the larger it is on the word cloud. This is why I didn’t mind if the students repeated an attribute.  In fact, this exercise works best when words are repeated!  If the word intelligent appears three times and the word friendly twice, then both words will appear only once in the word cloud, but intelligent will appear in a larger font than friendly. However, it’s also the reason I insisted on something new. I wanted as many positive words as possible.

I entered in the person’s name five times so it would be the biggest word. Then I entered all of the other positive adjectives. Rather than describe the next steps, I would rather have you play with the word cloud to learn how it works. Have some fun.

If you have two words to describe the person, use a tilde (~) symbol between them, and they will stay together.  Otherwise, they won’t. I haven’t figured out how to do hyphenated words. Let me know if you discover how.

When the word cloud was finished for each student, I saved it and printed a copy. The next day, when they arrived and saw their name surrounded by positive words about them, the result was a smile.  It felt good to know that people had good things to say about them.

However, using the word cloud doesn’t have to stop here. You can also use it to create specific nouns under a general category. For example, birds could contain robin, oriole, cardinal, crow, and duck. You could do the same for favourite colours. The result could be posted on the classroom wall, and be supplemented by pictures and strings going from the picture to each word.

By the way, how did Lynn Hainer make out? She was re-elected.  Certainly, the word cloud helped create a positive image.

Do you think you could use a word cloud in the way I have?  If you have other suggestions, I’d love to hear them too!

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