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Best Practices: Words as Images

As students develop reading and analytical skills in any subject, they must learn how to distinguish key concepts and patterns. This is true in my literature classes, where students sometimes struggle to identify major themes in the reading. I have found that visualizations of texts can help. 

Early in the semester, I often create a tag cloud using a free application available at When I paste the text of, for example, a short story into the application, Wordle generates an image in which the size of a word is proportional to the number of times it appears in a text. Looking at the tag cloud, students can begin analyzing themes and frequency of word usage. Using other tag cloud software, we can also compare and contrast two texts. After this exercise, my students are more prepared to read and analyze the text itself. 

Students can create tag clouds of their course notes or their essays to assess their own work. One geography colleague has students create tag clouds as a study guide after each unit in his course. Another colleague, in an interdisciplinary course, has students hand in tag clouds of their essays along with a short reflection on what they learned about their own writing from it.

In each of these variations, the tag cloud helps students see patterns and themes, which deepens their understanding of course materials.

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  • anc_dyn_linksSeeing Is Believing
  • anc_dyn_linksTales from Real Life: Seeing it Differently: Digital Storytelling
  • anc_dyn_linksLearning to Look
  • anc_dyn_linksBest Practices: Words as Images
  • anc_dyn_linksIssues to Consider: Helping Students See the Bigger Picture
  • anc_dyn_linksReferences and Resources

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